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The War On Drugs’ Worthwhile Nostalgia

Posted by July 21st, 2014 No Comments »

We live in nostalgic times. It’s never been easier to re-live (or extend) childhood thanks to the legion of throwback logos, Masters of the Universe Tumblr blogs, and multi-part decade retrospectives running ad nauseum on cable. For those of us of a certain age, it’s a kind of currency. We can’t wait to imprint our own memories onto our children, regardless of the fact that the raging tide of technology, hormones in the milk, and easy access to porn seem determined to turn our kids into fully grown consumers by the time they hit nine years old. I get it. The future can be pretty scary.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I first heard The War on Drugs’ masterpiece Lost in the Dream earlier this year. It is by far my favorite album of this year and probably this decade. It checks off a lot of my personal boxes:

  • Swirling melodic guitar lines
  • Urgent Dylanesque vocals
  • Driving, strummy rhythm section
  • Songs well over seven minutes
  • Hooks, hooks, hooks!

But I’m just as surprised by how much I’m taken by the bits that I generally shy away from; synthesizers, drum machines, lyrics about Big Ideas, and seriously New Wave production. I soon realized that I was wrestling with a serious case of nostalgia.

There are moments throughout Lost in the Dream that put me right back on the school bus, right back to sharing a wall with my Prog-rock loving brother, right back to watching those first late night MTV video blocks, straining for sounds of my father stirring, and riding the volume button until it was safe to listen again. In an ocean of Remember When culture, where everything old is new again, The War on Drugs have tapped into an authentic well, wringing genuine emotion from once fertile ground. The guitar sound on “An Ocean In Between the Waves” is straight out of a 1983 Dire Straits album, while the reverb heavy drum line running throughout “Disappearing” reminds me of any Depeche Mode or Tears for Fears track from 1985.

It’s easy to ape an era-specific sound. The real challenge lies in doing something new with an old model. Songwriter/singer Adam Granduciel manages to do just that with his lyrics. They’re earnest, sincere, but also wistful of bygone times. He writes from a grown-up’s perspective, perhaps for the first time, and laments what used to be. “Eyes to the Wind” is a sequel to Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind” in the best way – simply asking “what the hell happened?” with a sigh and more than a little regret. This is music designed to be played on long, slow back curves while driving the Mustang you bought after turning 40.

Lost in the Dream reminds me of discovering some of my favorite music over my lifetime – I didn’t seek it out, it found me. You won’t get another chance to see them live riding the crest of this wave this high. Go see them at the Capitol Hill Block Party on July 27.

(The War On Drugs play the CHBP main stage on Sunday, July 27 at 6:30 p.m.) 

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