Release Date: Aug 25, 2017
Record label: Atlantic
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Since their outset, The War On Drugs’ music has always carried the tangible feeling of movement; the unwavering momentum towards some dreamed about place just over the horizon. And, with each passing album, the mode of transport has grown in size, spaciousness, and luxury; on Wagonwheel Blues we were in a rickety, rumbling cart moving back and forth across the continent; Slave Ambient saw the move to a proper motor vehicle, albeit one with plenty of mileage already on the board and a stereo that only got intermittent radio transmissions; Lost In The Dream was the move to high-class, reliable and comfortable car. Now we have A Deeper Understanding, which opens with a purr of the engine, as the grand drums first ignite – but despite their obvious power, they are not overwhelming, they’re perfectly in control.
“The truth is in the dark,” Granduciel sings through the foggy reverb and cascading piano of “In Chains;” proceeding in axiom from the album’s artwork, where the singer works alone in his studio, his illuminated face and keyboard giving balance to the darkness that enshrouds him and vice versa, his words ring true. Their earlier albums were more personal projects, conceived mostly alone in dark rooms, great songs struggling to find their way toward richly realized collaborations; on their fourth, The War on Drugs has become a fully synergetic band. This development has allowed their music a new kind of movement, which has resulted in songs more fleshed-out and actualized than even those from their great 2014 release, Lost in the Dream.
Coincidence or not, that the return of the Philadelphia band should be found within 'pain' is fitting, since the most profound aspect of Adam Granduciel's project, and thus the core reason for its far-reaching appeal, is its distinct and timeless way of turning worrying and heart-rending demons in on themselves in a sort of blissful, cathartic explosion. 2014's landmark opus Lost in the Dream realised this ability gloriously and crudely, remedying the abstract and fragmented thoughts of the Romantic by either welcoming them face-on and mindfully, as in "Suffering", or by pushing them with a driving sense of direction and purpose, as in "Under the Pressure", where anxiety and tension turn into whopping and whooping energy. Of course, the latter has brought the band cliched associations of music made for cruising on the open road, a result of the romantic connotations of their Americana and Springsteen-esque Dad Rock and the motorik, Kraftwerk-esque rhythms that drive each song.
Yes! A War on Drugs guitar solo! There’s a lovely profile on the now defunct Grantland (RIP) of Adam Granduciel, the frontman of proud beer commercial rockers the War on Drugs, published just weeks before Lost in the Dream changed his fortunes forever. In it, Granduciel comes across very much like the tortured perfectionist he is, simultaneously obsessed about the “minutiae” of making a record and drained by it: “…it was just him and this record living together in a big, empty, lonely house … he had nothing to do but ruminate on how to tweak, then revise, and then completely rework songs. He lost sleep over this album.
T he cover of the fourth War on Drugs album is a red herring. Alone in a windowless room, songwriter Adam Granduciel looks up from his keyboard, apparently annoyed by an intruding photographer. The dank hermitage more accurately reflects the making of his 2014 breakthrough, Lost in the Dream, a drivetime reverie indebted to Springsteen, Dylan and Dire Straits that nearly drove him mad.
Imagine, somewhere on the LA airwaves, there’s a station that you can only pick up from a convertible radio after midnight. Its skunk-blasted DJs play nothing but the distant, hazy sound of ’80s soft rock – Bryan Adams, Foreigner, Don Henley’s ‘Boys Of Summer’, Eric Carmen’s ‘Hungry Eyes’ – merged together into an endless narcotic drawl of slick nightrider riffs and husky vocals that sound like Bruce Hornsby flicking a mullet over the raised collar of a red leather jacket. This, essentially, is where the music of The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel lives, and lovers of the plush paranoia of 2014’s breakthrough album ‘Lost In The Dream’ will be relieved that his fourth outing doesn’t touch that dial.
Philadelphia has always been known for lush music – from the richly orchestrated proto-disco Philly Sound to the kaleidoscopic psych scene that spawned the War on Drugs. Steadily widening the canvas since co-founder Kurt Vile's departure, leader Adam Granduciel achieves full-on sonic rapture with his band's latest LP, an abstract-expressionist mural of synth-pop and heartland rock colored by bruised optimism and some of his most generous, incandescent guitar ever..
Despite emerging on the roster of Indiana’s impeccably indie Secretly Canadian, the music of The War On Drugs has always had more in common with commercially huge stadium rock acts of the 1980s like Dire Straits and Bruce Springsteen than with most of their more idiosyncratic former label mates. It’s therefore no great surprise that the Philadelphia six-piece have moved to major label Atlantic for their fourth album, A Deeper Understanding. The War On Drugs’ sound has always been steeped in classic rock and performed with daunting instrumental skill, but the band’s evolution through the promising Slave Ambient (2011) and 2014’s outstanding Lost In The Dream has seen them become steadily more epic and ambitious in their scope..
Cosmetically, the War on Drugs seem a perfect representation of indie music in the 2010s, an era where our appetite for reverb-drenched dream pop has shown little sign of abating despite years of hyper-exposure. Along with the Beach Houses, Wild Nothings, and Lower Dens of the world, the Philadelphia-based six-piece led by Adam Granduciel carry the torch impeccably in this regard. Yet it is the War on Drugs’ clear appreciation of classic rock that seems most unusual in this day and age.
In 2014, indie rock's resident crank Mark Kozelek caused a minor blog uproar over his out-of-nowhere feud with Philadelphia rock band The War on Drugs. Apparently upset The War on Drugs' set had sound bleed with his set at a festival, Kozelek lashed out, referring to War on Drugs as "beer-commercial lead guitar shit" before finally recording a song called "War on Drugs: Suck My Cock." Kozelek may have been kidding, or maybe he's asshole-or both. But Kozelek (and plenty of other self-described "music snobs") needs to stop pretending that musical populism is an insult.
A funny thing happened to The War On Drugs in 2014. After nine years of travelling off-piste cult acclaim routes, the Philly road-rock artisans left 2014 with a tank full of fame. Third album Lost In The Dream topped end-of-year polls, bigger venues were filled, and alt.rock grinch Mark Kozelek wrote an anti-tribute song in War On Drugs (Suck My Cock).
The War on Drugs should be headlining music festivals. Seeing how it’s 2017, and the model for rock bands who can feasibly headline a major festival has made it so you have to sell millions of records like Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam or cash in on decades old nostalgia like The Strokes or Modest Mouse, the likelihood of a closing slot is low. Though, of any rock band to emerge in this decade, The War On Drugs craft the kind of majestic, expansive songs that all but beg to be heard in a crowd of thousands on an open field just after the sun sets.
Since The War on Drugs’ breakout 2014 record Lost in the Dream catapulted the band into greater exposure, there has seemed to be undue expectation on them to heed the call to lead a new brigade of guitar-forward rock ‘n’ roll bands, of which the likes of Kurt Vile and Ultimate Painting can count themselves members. Whether or not songwriter Adam Granduciel felt that pressure when bearing down to pen a follow-up to Lost remains unclear. But if the subtleties in nuance and 30,000-foot overview of sound heard on A Deeper Understanding is any indication, Granduciel’s artistic lens has been laser-focused on living up to those expectations, and fucking with them at the same time..
There will be those who disagree with me because they're stoned, and I say this as a long term fan of the band, but the songs on A Deeper Understanding, the new album from The War on Drugs, are pretty samey. You can kind of guess the deal: long, reverby, minor key, melancholic, sounds absolutely phenomenal if you're mellowed off your goard... while a palpably different beast to its predecessors, with a fuller and denser 'band' sound, A Deeper Understanding is not a surprising record.
Just as the mainstream will always repackage the underground, in recent years the independent sector has begun to return the favour. No one has benefited more from this unlikely trend than The War On Drugs (aka 38-year-old singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel). Catapulted from indie obscurity to headlining international festivals thanks to the success of 2014.
You don’t simply stumble upon an album like The War On Drugs did with ‘Lost In The Dream’. The kind of record made for staring longingly out of train windows, it was also a body of work which risked overshadowing anything the Philadelphia spirits could deliver going forward. They might have kept us waiting but ‘A Deeper Understanding’ feels like a familiar friend from the off with six-minute opener ‘Up All Night’. Adam Granduciel’s ghostly vocal maintains its unique intimate bond with the listener throughout.
Loneliness and paranoia course through the War on Drugs's 2014 album Lost in the Dream, which frontman Adam Granduciel began writing during a bout of depression. A more subtle bleakness, however, pervades the band's follow-up, A Deeper Understanding. Both psychedelia-tinged albums share a similar sonic blueprint: hazy, 1980s-inspired heartland rock that shifts the Philadelphia indie rockers away from the folky, Dylan-esque sound of their earlier efforts.
Adam Granduciel is a master of balancing past and present. The Philadelphia-based, Dover-raised singer-songwriter who fronts The War on Drugs has earned indie-darling status by filtering classic rock influences through an ambient dream-pop haze, a formula whose appeal proved near universal on 2014's critically hailed breakthrough "Lost in the Dream." Three years later, Granduciel returns with "A Deeper Understanding," an album that finds the band honing its unique sound. The brisk opening track "Up All Night" lays out the instrumental palette the band draws from for most of "A Deeper Understanding": '80s-style electronic drums, warm keyboards, a blown-out guitar solo.
The War on Drugs are never an easy listen. In fact, they're one of the most emotionally heavy acts around today. If you're addicted to them, I'd bet you're an experienced person who's probably experienced a lot of life's rigors and simply relate. That's what draws me to the chief architect in the band in writer and vocalist Adam Granduciel.
Being Samantha Cameron's favourite band is a strange badge of honour to have bestowed on you if you're a bunch of slightly grizzled Americana rockers. As it was, the former PM's wife professed her love for The War On Drugs in 2015, a year after their breakthrough album .