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Sparkman Revision: The Real Best Album of 2014 Is:

By Mike Sparkman in Arts & Culture

If you are a frequent reader of The Royal Banner, you probably know that we in the Entertainment section made a list of the top albums (along with movies, songs, and TV shows) of 2014 in our last print issue, and that I listed “Benji” by Sun Kil Moon as the best album of the year. As good as that album is, I found an album from 2014 that tops it not long after we published the article, much to my simultaneous frustration and pleasure.

“Lost in the Dream” is the third album by The War on Drugs, the brainchild band of Philadelphia multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Adam Granduciel. The group had previously generated a modest amount of buzz with their spaced-out folk-rock, but their new record has been touted as a breakthrough of sorts, and one can’t help thinking that this band made something special when listening to “Lost in the Dream.”

From the first minute of the album, it is clear that The War on Drugs is not groundbreakingly original in their musical style. Many radio icons of the ‘70s and ‘80s are clear influences here, with the impact of works done by Bruce Springsteen, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan, and Dire Straits, among others, felt throughout. Yet, the band expertly mixes elements of said artists in a way that makes them sound anything but rehashed. The shimmering synths blend surprisingly well with Granduciel’s quasi-folksy voice and the subtle acoustic guitars, making songs such as “An Ocean in Between the Waves” compellingly new and fresh sounding.

The group kicks off the album with the incredible one-two punch of “Under the Pressure” and “Red Eyes.” The former is driving and energetic but hazy and ambient, and deeper looks into the lyrics are easily rewarded. It is clear that despite the easygoing, upbeat feel of the song, there is some underlying difficulty and strife. Granduciel wrote the album during a state of severe depression, a circumstance that becomes evident in the grand but personal lyrics of the first song, lamenting how “a dream like this gets wasted” and how Granduciel is “trying not to crack under the pressure.”

“Red Eyes” continues the trend of joyous music and downbeat lyrics, this time with an astoundingly infectious synth melody during the chorus that anchors the most accessible song on the album. After “Red Eyes” comes the more stripped-down ballad “Suffering,” and as the album progresses, it becomes clear that Granduciel and company refused to include any filler here.

The more focused, soaring, piano-led number, “Eyes to the Wind,” fits excellently within the blurred turmoil of the album, revealing Granduciel coming to terms with his difficulties. “I’m just a bit run-down here at the moment,” sings Granduciel with striking frankness and honesty as his band plays an ascending americana-rock tune. This brilliant combination of poetic musings and simply crafted melodies is felt throughout the whole album, and contributes to the abnormal consistency of the record.

As the album draws to a close with such tunes as the anthemic, New Order-esque “Burning,” and the pensive title track, the listener has become acquainted with a man and his hardship, but the listener is never weighed down by the heavy circumstances of the album’s protagonist and creator. The listener has been reminded of popular music of past decades, but their clarity in recognition of a good tune is never obscured by unnecessary nostalgia. On “Lost in the Dream,” The War on Drugs maintains a delicate balance and executes a profound but accessible work of art in an impressive manner.

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