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When lead singer & songwriter Adam Granduciel was in town recently for a press run I inadvertently had the privilege of a brief encounter. A quintessential American rocker with shoulder length scraggly hair, top to toe in faded blue denim and a piercing gaze reducing me to a small boy. When he shook my hand it was almost ripped off, but as he spoke his gregarious nature and infectious smile rippled through the entire office. It was clear he was put on this planet to make music.
It's been three years since the sublime Slave Ambient was released, so what have the Philly rockers been up to all this time? First of all the hazy harmonicas have been replaced by a crisp, impulsive piano, reflected in the record's ascension in production quality which is utterly air tight. Many tracks have become symphonies, the first five tracks alone amount to 35 minutes, just as suitable to the open road as to headphones, stadiums, living rooms or Race for Life adverts. It's Dire Straits embarking on a road trip across The States in a muscle car with Springsteen behind the wheel, but someone's left Skying in the tape deck. Thankfully Granduciel has shaken off some of Dylan's cadence making it a more personal affair, and it feels like an album he's been thinking about his entire life.
To use the exceptionally profound catchphrase of ITV football punditry, the album is "tale of two halves". It's arguably the best start to a record since the first two tracks of Lonerism. 'Under the Pressure' gets you out of the city and onto the highway, a nine minute foot tapping anthem flirting with subtle sax and searing synths as the lyrics call for an escape. Wind still in the hair, 'Red Eyes' is undoubtedly the most accessible single they've ever released. You can see yourself after a couple of shandies confessing sins to your old man before a liberating "I LOVE YOU, DAD!"
Often, little is said about the songwriting as it's overshadowed by the dense, trembling soundscapes. Though as the mournful 'Suffering' plods along, Grunduciel's poetry shines, "Like a snowflake through the fire, I'll be frozen in time; will you be here suffering?" A song not about longing but heartache, complemented by a meandering psychedelic backdrop. Later on, the pensive, frustrated protagonist wonders "I'm in my finest hour, can I be more than just a fool?" with an evident desire to get out of his own head.
Unfortunately, as they pass the Midwest on their road trip, the Mustang appears to have run out of gas. Less experimental and swallowed by acoustic guitars, it's not the refreshingly unique War on Drugs developed in the first half, more so a Travelling Wilburys pastiche. The harmonica returns and the urgency has vanished. 'In Reverse' is a shining light to an otherwise pedestrian second half, as Adam memorably vows "I don't mind you disappearing, when I know you can be found."
By the end, Lost In The Dream is similarly as sprawling and textured as its predecessor, harnessing the affirming, heartfelt sentiments without becoming corny or meek (mostly). However it doesn't push boundaries the way Arcade Fire or The Horrors for example have. Put another way it's difficult to envisage an entirely new set of followers, but so what? Their one-track minded gung-ho ethos created their expansive loyal fan base in the first place, there's no room for plinking around on a fucking hurdy gurdy.