There is an oft-repeated adage that smiling uses less muscles than frowning and therefore we should spend our lives smiling. While this is not a fact and has no scientific basis, there is perhaps a more measurable comparison in music. Does the plethora of ‘happy’ music reflect that it is easier and that is why more people do it? How much harder then is it for a group to create music that isn’t happy and indeed to make it appealing enough that people want to listen to it. War on Drugs’ frontman Adam Granduciel achieves just this feat on the band’s third album ‘Lost In A Dream’, an album bristling with its own intense brand of melancholy. The musical equivalent of Eeyore’s optimistic approach to life, this is not easy, happy music, this is music for the disconsolate.
Surprisingly, this is actually more of a positive than you’d expect. Imbued heavily with all the emotional turmoil Granduciel experienced when finally taking a break from touring and recording with the group he started with Kurt Vile, there is a profound sense of loneliness to this record. Amongst all the loneliness though there is an undeniable element of comfort in it. Perhaps it’s the audible influence of 70’s era Americana rock that we all know so well (Petty, Browne, Dylan) and which is reflected in the more upbeat tracks ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ and ‘Red Eyes’. Or maybe it’s the sprawling atmospherics created by the airy layered guitar, either way you can’t help but relax and sink back in your chair as album opener ‘Under The Pressure’ begins a slowly winding path through Granduciel’s unsettled psyche.
As with former member Kurt Vile’s output, these are not traditional songs relying heavily on a catchy chorus but rather soundscapes that take you on a journey you can’t help but want to wander along with. Indeed if it were a genre, this would surely fit the bill of impressionist rock. Even the titles refuse to commit to anything more than a broad impression: ‘Suffering’, ’Disappearing’ and ‘In Reverse’ perfectly capture the ambience of each track with generalists. ‘Suffering’ itself is one of the album’s standout tracks, balancing the group’s subtle style while incorporating beautiful minimalist guitar work and some grounding piano.
The most noticeable touchstone on the album is Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks’, which has a discernable influence on ‘Eyes To The Wind’ and the title track, both hauntingly honest tracks. Indeed, the latter and album closer ‘In Reverse’ combine to bring some resolution to the overall theme of the album through their honesty, concluding an excellent album arc that reflects the depth of thought that has gone into this album.
It might be that bit harder than creating happy music and it’s certainly not going to be everyone’s cup of tea but for those times where music is filling in as your companion, it’s hard to think of a more comfortable one to have by your side than this album.