Truly great albums all seem to have one thing in common: They sound better while traveling. Of course, listening to a favorite record at home is enjoyable and all, but pop that same music in your car stereo and it will take on a whole different feel. The good ones become better: They're more memorable, more moving -- more of everything. The "car test" is even a common practice among bands during the recording process -- until songs sound good while driving around, they're just not done.
Lost in the Dream, the excellent new album from the War on Drugs, who play the Casbah on Sunday, comes to life within this concept. It's an album made, perhaps entirely by mistake, to soundtrack a journey.
The 10 songs on the new full-length (buy it here) bound along with some kind of locomotive urgency -- like they can't wait to get where they're going -- while occasionally meandering in space after running out of steam. Indeed, half the record's tracks wander for more than six minutes, an homage to a time when pop records were dominated by the folk ethos that music existed mainly as a vehicle for storytelling.
That's not the only similarity between Lost in the Dream and, say, Bob Dylan: It's a veritable forging of Dylan's 1997 atmospheric return-to-form Time Out of Mind and the thematic melodrama of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A. -- both records that also sound more at home on the road than they do on any audiophile's home stereo system.
Even though this album has its share of long-running epics, they're never tedious or heavy-footed. Singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel co-wrote these songs with his touring bandmates (pianist Robbie Bennett and bassist Dave Hartley), and you can definitely hear the collaboration: Instrumentation and lyrics share equal amounts of space in these restless, fluid tales -- one never overwhelming the other. Abstract excursions ("The Haunting Idle," "In Reverse") exist next to the pulsing, energetic waves of "Burning" and the unbridled recklessness of "Red Eyes" (listen to it here).
There's a clear '80s theme surging throughout the album, with the lead-off track "Under the Pressure" sounding uncannily similar to Don Henley's "Boys of Summer." But it's not a complaint -- it's a welcome familiarity. Whatever the influences -- whether it's Granduciel's Dylan-esque syllabic emphasis or the digital drum machines that echo the percussion of Tom Petty's "Don't Come Around Here No More" or Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" -- they only serve to enhance the album's warm melodies and even more-inviting ambience.
Lost in the Dream is a marriage of ideas and formats that work together to serve the overall feel of the work as a whole; it's not about the end result but, rather, the journey there -- much like a road trip.