From the keyboardist's epic organ-esque synth riff to the singer's unabashed climactic whoops, every individual element of "Red Eyes," seems to harken back to the late '80s and early '90s, as if the song was a simultaneous homage to Bruce Springsteen and Tom Cochrane. And yet, the tune's unique take on those aged influences made it one of 2014's best tracks, and a standout cut on the most acclaimed album of the year.
Indeed, Lost In The Dream proved to be the most successful LP yet to be released by Philadelphia indie troop The War On Drugs. And while those songs are indebted to several classic-rock hits, they also abound with of-the-moment flourishes. You can hear it for yourself at their Amos' Southend concert on June 18.
The singing may be as earnest as anything on the AM dial in the '80s, but the lyrics are far more opaque and mysterious. The guitar playing on "Suffering," (another standout track) is as organically melancholy as any midtempo Springsteen number, but the tune lacks the succinctness of many E Street latter day hits, instead meandering and drifting to the six-minute mark. These elements and more make the album grippingly unpredictable, a quality that is all the more augmented, in contrast, by some of the LP's more traditional aspects.
The mastermind behind this wholly unique sound is Adam Granduciel. The singer, guitarist and songwriter spent much of the two years prior to releasing Lost In The Dream with his Drugs bandmates, performing a seemingly unending engagement of more than 100 shows. The desperation to maintain such a breakneck pace, and the wearying inertia that comes with it, became palpable in Lost In The Dream's tone. But that adrenaline and exhaustion also became massive hurdles in the writing and recording of the LP.
As Granduciel described it in a Q&A with Interview magazine, "Touring is a rough thing. You don't have any time to look around or stop and think if what you're doing is making you happy. The more you tour, the better the band gets, and you get caught up in a lot more things than just traveling. It becomes a way to survive. It was definitely strange to come home and all of a sudden have to shift gears into creative mode."
In an interview with Stereogum, longtime War On Drugs bassist David Hartley says touring has always been tumultuous for the band. During tours he would have to pick up drum duties, or the band would hire local drummers from city to city on their circuit. The worst of the latter such incidents occurred when Granduciel inadvertently hired a drummer who as deaf in one ear, forgot to bring sticks to the gig and — worst of all — got wildly drunk before showing up for the set.
But the band's biggest challenges of all occurred during the lead up to Lost In The Dream's writing and recording, when Granduciel became afflicted with debilitating panic attacks, depression and agoraphobia.
A Pitchfork article outlines that psychologic turmoil, and how Granduciel contends with it, quoting him as saying, "Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and I pull the blinds and I get that feeling I still can't shake: Today is just going to be another long, shitty fucking day, and hopefully tomorrow will be better. I may have been living with this my whole life..."
Fortunately, the music became his salvation. This is especially true of "Red Eyes," because of its grand, rousing tone. It was the sort of earnestly raw song that could provide solace to any listener coping with the same anxiety struggles that haunted its songwriter.
As Granduciel described it: "I knew it was going to be a great song. I realized I really wanted to make something that was great, something that makes other people happy. I went to bed that night in the studio, thinking, 'Oh man, I hope I don't die before this record comes out, because I want people to hear that song.'"