The culminating track of Bon Iver's 2011 self-titled album — the one that made Justin Vernon an almost-house-hold name — was a polarizing co-op of 80s adult contemporary. Suddenly the bearded bro from Wisconsin was being compared to pop artists like Lionel Richie, Mike and the Mechanics, and Don Henley. Pitchfork called the track "the record's bravest and most deftly executed moment." Friends of mine simply asked when we all started listening to our parent's music. With that cloud of falsetto'd autotune and dueling saxophone, Bon Iver either won over his diehards or alienated those not willing to make the jump from his frozen, Northwoods cabin. For Emma, really felt like Forever Ago.
On his new album Lost in the Dream, Adam Granduciel — the man behind the Philadelphia alt-rock outfit The War On Drugs — strikes a similar chord. As the album cycles through, pillars of dad rock make appearances in my chicken-scratched moleskin. "Eyes To The Wind", anchored by its mid-tempo groove and splatters of piano, instantly recalls Bob Seeger's Silver Bullet ballad "Against The Wind", with Granduciel's vocals taking unexpected, melodic dives, likening himself to "a train in reverse down a dark road / Carrying the whole load /J ust rattlin' the whole way home." "Burning" comes coated in a Born In the USA synthetic sheen, its testifying fits of organ beckoning you to dance like a young Courtney Cox, preferably at home though, when you're alone, and all that flailing and jumping around only spooks the dog (guilty). There's also the oogie boogie of lead single "Red Eyes", a song that's usually met by some variation of "Hey, is that the new Dire Straits over there?" from my co-worker when played around these parts.
No Matt, it's not. Lost in the Dream is a perfectly realized vision of an album. What sounds slightly hokey on paper is polished and contemporary in the eardrums. Unlike Bon Iver, however, Granduciel's inspirations won't make previous fans of TWOD's work queasy. If you chewed through the album's predecessor, Slave Ambient, such touchstones have been hidden in plain sight all along. They were packaged in a certain aura, however, magnificent plumes of sound channeled through miles of cables, cords, and processors, spreading out in a beautiful haze. The dream of Slave Ambient felt a bit rickety, as if a hard snap of an acoustic string or a sudden burst of too much distortion might suddenly stir you from such beautiful ambiance.
Lost in the Dream than is perfectly titled...a culminating statement of The War On Drugs as Zen masters. Though Granduciel's Americana influences are obvious, it's the beautiful, meandering mist of glassy synths and spaced-out guitars, floating in a great big nothingness that gets me. This type of wash coats all of Lost in the Dream, but it's most magnificently realized during the last few moments of opener "Under The Pressure" or the instrumental interlude, "The Haunting Idle". The mood here is so intensely numbing...listen too closely and you just might fall into the trance.
The most convenient contemporary comparison here lies on "Goldtone"; the ten minute finale of Kurt Vile's rather excellent outing, Waking on a Pretty Daze. Apropos considering Vile used to shred with Granduciel back in The War On Drugs early years. Since setting off on his own the two Philly outfits have felt a wee bit competitive from afar. Vile broke through with Smoke Ring For My Halo, only to be trumped by Slave Ambient. Vile raised the stakes again with his latest, complete with a mural in Fishtown (where both Vile and Granduciel reside) and his own locally sanctioned "Kurt Vile Day" (August 28th) in the city of brotherly love. City Hall better clear the calendar for its other native son, however. Lost in the Dream's glassy send off to Never Never Land is going down as an absolute Daze-topper...one I hope will be the year's very best by the time we're done with this thing.