“When it all breaks down and we’re runaways / standing in the wake of our pain / and we stare straight into nothing / but we call it all the same,” Adam Granduciel, frontman of The War on Drugs, croons over a lush, dreamy soundscape on “Under the Pressure,” the opener of the band’s brilliant new album, Lost in the Dream.

Building on everything that worked so well on their previous 2011 LP, Slave Ambient, The War on Drugs has returned with an album that provokes the untouched emotions of dreams and questions the boundaries of the mind. Lost in the Dream does exactly what one might expect – it emulates a dream world and situates its listeners within it. With track titles like “Disappearing,” “Eyes to the Wind” and “Suffering,” it’s simple enough to get an idea of what the album is about: the pangs of loss, the dark corners of the soul and the haunting of forgotten memories. But listening provides a different understanding.

Lost in the Dream functions as a series of landscapes and atmospheres; each track endlessly reverberates, hypnotizes and swells with beautiful melodies and familiar rock-roots. With a steady pulse mediated by a thundering locomotion of drums, Granduciel and bandmates take each track on its own individual journey to explore the unknown. It’s a journey without a destination, a trip without intention. Getting lost is what this album is about.

Lost in the Dream, at times, is emotionally gut-wrenching but visceral and beautiful nonetheless. “Under the Pressure” opens the album with a click-clacking, syncopated drumbeat that propels the track off into the distance. “Suffering” is the album’s take on a psychedelic power ballad, replete with trippy reverberations of slide guitars bowing out in all directions. Emulating and playing off folk-rock origins, Granduciel channels Springsteen’s shoegazing Americana in “Eyes to the Wind” and “Burning.” But album standout “Red Eyes” best evokes the 80’s synth backdrops and fist pumping motions akin to Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A-era rock anthems.

Similar to how Springsteen attributed his music to measuring the distance between the American dream and American reality, Lost in the Dream plays and relishes in that disparity without interference. If there’s one thing that Granduciel wants to make known, it’s that dreaming, however illusory it may be, can function as an enormous, new world of freedom fresh for exploration and discovery.

Whether or not Lost in the Dream intends to make a point is irrelevant. With expansive, swelling environments that seem to be stuck somewhere right between dreams and reality, The War on Drugs cover so much distance on this record. Extremely personal and private yet humane and inviting, “Lost in the Dream” spends a lot of time creating colossal walls of sound only to break them at their climax. It’s what remains that is most beautiful. Perhaps that’s what these sonic journeys are all about. Only when we pick up the pieces can we return from our journey meaningfully affected and transformed. Lost in the Dream doesn’t force you to make a decision, it just wants you along for the ride.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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