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The War On Drugs

A Deeper Understanding

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The War On Drugs

2017

For whatever reason, aside for a couple of songs, I was initially somewhat disappointed with this record. That probably has to do with the fact that their prior album (Lost in the Dream) is one of the best albums of the decade and would have been nearly impossible to top, so perhaps my expectations were a bit to high for this one. But like a triumphant melodramatic underdog horse galloping it's way ahead in the race, A Deeper Understanding has steadily gotten better to my ears with repeated listens. It might also have to do with the fact The War On Drugs' music is much better suited for the dreary cold weather of November and December as opposed to August when it came out, so I've been much more into it lately because of that. In some ways, A Deeper Understanding is a more well-rounded and even record than it's predecessor (it's less front-loaded, and is generally less dreary to boot), but it is somewhat lacking in the epic highs that made Lost in the Dream such a great album. Sometimes it sounds like Granduciel is really milking the whole melodramatic 80s thing a little too much, but I'd be lying if I said most of these songs don't strike all of those chords almost perfectly. A few songs reach the heights of the best material from Lost in the Dream (i.e. "Holding On" and "Strangest Thing"), and the rest of the material compliments the overall vibe fairly well. Sometimes the songs fall a bit flat, or never quite make an impression, but for the most part, they suit the broader mood of the album well. A good retro album for fans of 80s Dylan/Springsteen. Cheers to dad-rock ;)

8.2

Lost In The Dream

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The War On Drugs

2014

Many times on this site I've spoke of "magic" when it comes to music, etc which is a difficult thing to quantify. It's a certain intangible quality that can bring music to soaring heights, or on the other side of the coin, powerful lows. Basically "magic" is when music makes you feel something beyond yourself, something intense, which can cover the full spectrum of emotions.

There's a lot of that proverbial magic to be found on The War On Drugs' best album Lost in the Dream.  And it's a fairly unique brand of magic at that, a certain melodramatic and nostalgic type of magic that recalls 1980s Springsteen or even Dylan.  In fact, Lost in the Dream kind of sounds like everything you would hope Bob Dylan in the 1980s would have sounded like if he were actually trying to make great music.  It's got a certain yearning, sweeping, melancholic energy about it that casts a decidedly gloomy and introspective spell on the listener, but it's all done in a blatantly 1980s retro-rock type of way.

And what do I mean by that? Basically, the entire album is coated in the type of thin, synthesizer-heavy production that characterized albums like Born In the U.S.A. (think "Downbound Train" or "Dancing in the Dark") or even Flock of Seagulls or Crowded House for example.  But while I had always dismissed most of that music as insufferably cheesy, in spite of some occasional guilty pleasures (like "Don't Dream It's Over" for example), the music on Lost in the Dream sounds more profound and compelling to these ears, without the cheese-factor. 

These songs are all fairly melodramatic for sure, but they feel more genuine and affecting to these ears, probably because it all sounds incredibly sincere and legitimately despondent.  The most notable examples are on the opening track "Under the Pressure" which does a fantastic job of setting the tone for the rest of the album. This is music that sounds like the soundtrack to some 80s night-time drive montage, except, again, there seems to be more depth and less cheese going on here. The following track "Red Eyes" which may be the greatest song on the entire album, also recalls the aforementioned melodramatic 80s vibe, but with a surging, resounding spirit to it that comes shining through in glorious fashion during Adam Granduciel's righteous guitar solos.

But perhaps the most powerful song on the album is the 4th track: "An Ocean Between the Waves". This song has such a surging yearning energy to it that steadily builds throughout it's 7+ minute running time into a powerful emotional climax that really sucks you into the song. That magic I was talking about? "An Ocean Between The Waves" may be the best example of that on the entire album (with apologies to "Red Eyes", which is no slouch itself). Hard to quantify it, but, it's there, and you can feel it. A masterfully done song.

From there though, things tend to descend into the proverbial melodramatic 80s murk, with no clear highlights on the back-half of the album. It could very well be that the intensity of "Under the Pressure", "Red Eyes", and "An Ocean Between the Waves" are simply too impressive of songs to follow, and thus everything else sounds pedestrian as a result. Whatever the case, the inability of any of the remaining tunes to rise to the level of those songs really tends to weigh down the back-half of the album, which makes Lost in the Dream kind of a 50/50 offering. It's half great, half OK, but the inherit "magic" of those great songs help tilt the scales to make Lost in the Dream a fairly special album overall, and probably one of the best albums of the entire decade to boot.

8.6

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