March 18 2014
Growing up the 80's were but a vaguely generalized period of time that my mother would only dismissively address with a smirk and a glance that suggested something beyond me. But as we drove around Milwaukee the 80's permeated my earliest conception of American music and influenced my perception of my mother, for who the songs of that time brought out a nostalgia. But upon hearing Cold War era radio rock like Mellencamp and Petty today the fervor to make patriotism edgy and cool seems so thick that it's just as likely they'd used it as hair gel as well as a tool to perpetuate their parent's American Dream. On Lost In The Dream Adam Granduciel, the man behind The War On Drugs, finds himself musing on this fading ideology, gauging it's influence on his life and questioning where it has left both himself and our nation.
The band's third album, somewhat ironically out today on Secretly Canadian, is thematically focused on progress, yet sonically indebted to the guitar and synth laden rock of the 80's. This juxtaposition on paper reads “Warning Nostalgic Tropes Ahead” but ingeniously Granduciel has navigated into a narrower lane that is more critical of it's roots than it is affirming. Granduciel, like those before him, pays homage to his sonic ancestors but where they functioned more to appropriate the American Dream for a new audience, Granduciel is offering a challenge to the status quo he was raised on. Album opener “Under the Pressure” immediately points to the underlying political task of Granduciel's: “We stare straight into nothing but we call it all the same. You were raised on a promise founded over time. Better come around to the new way, or watch as it all breaks down here.” Clearly Granduciel feels the American Dream has lost it's influence and that moving forward one ideology isn't strong enough to carry us all.
Lost In The Dream has more than just lyrical allusions to America; sonically the album, like 2011's Slave Ambient is representative of the great expanse we inhabit. Ambient interlude “The Haunting Idle” and the album's seamless transitions evoke the open highways where we find ourselves adrift, gliding through endless terrain, unsettled by the thoughts our inescapable solitude offers. The pastiche of 80's rock smartly cloaks itself as a something safely familiar like a road side oasis but even the nod to Rod Stewart's “Young Turks” on “Burning” asks the listener to challenge the evolution of their self-identity.
Today Mellencamp's “Small Town” American Dream no longer suffices for me or my mother, our desires and aspirations can no longer be neatly packaged, covered in a shiny lather of non-lead based paint and applied evenly over our lives. But with that memory of our car rides remains a piece of ideology that I still find myself contemplating. That white picket fence is and always will be in the collective peripheral of our country, asking us all in our times of uncertainty if at some point we strayed from the interstate connecting fulfillment and desire. Or as Granduciel says about a soldier on the slow, locomotive “Lost In the Dream” : “His heart I can't resist. He may risk it all, you'd risk it all for the memory. But it's reeling under your skin.” Despite needing the major highways to get there, the best path for you has yet to be traversed.