Pennsylvanian rooted, electropop and neo-psychedelia band, The War on Drugs, released their 4th studio album, A Deeper Understanding, on 25th August. This became their first record alongside the major label ‘Atlantic Records’, who took them on after their 2014 success, Lost in The Dream. Their later album was heavily introspective, claustrophobic, and rife with intense anxiety. It was also a sonic breakthrough, propelling them into mainstream rock consciousness. Yet, Adam Granduciel (vocals and guitar) calls A Deeper Understanding their most ‘band focused record’ to date, propelling their previous sound into a more optimistic sphere. Their 2017 tour of A Deeper Understanding began in September, within the hometown of Philadelphia and concludes in Sweden in November.
their most ‘band focused record’ to date
A Deeper Understanding opens with a punchy yet ethereal glistening layered track, ‘Up All Night’, concentrating their distinctive sound, fostered on Lost in The Dream. The soft romantic sound of synth pop lingers, with Granduciel’s vocals weathered and rustic. Whilst their distinctiveness is unquestionable, there is a definite shift in tone, to something slightly more controlled and with optimistic vision. The layered textures which haunt their 2014 sound are still very much present on A Deeper Understanding, with hints of nostalgia to Springsteen and The Eagles, reinforcing The War on Drugs’ reminiscent tone, whilst fostering their highly current sound. The track calls out to be played on dark lonely roads to truly experience its expansive potential. ‘Pain’ follows, with a glossy and deep guitar riff, consuming the sonic sphere, and Granduciel’s vocal’s carry a sense of haunting, as on Lost in The Dream. Yet, even on a track titled ‘Pain’, he appears far more expansive and optimistic in his delivery. Granduciel pleads “give me a deeper understanding of who I am”, yet this intimacy and personal outcry does not weigh the album down in a claustrophobic crisis of idenity as on Lost in The Dream, but merely throws out such desires in reverie. The band’s powerful implementation of a fuzz driven guitar riff is not lost on ‘Holding On’. The riff rings is cathartic in the most uplifting tone, and with a sense of abstract synth pop, the track banishes their former cynicism.
The track calls out to be played on dark lonely roads
The most intimate moments of A Deeper Understanding arrive when Granduciel’s (beautiful yet intense) guitar solo’s are postponed, leaving behind subtly employed synth layers, such as on ‘Strangest Thing’. Traces of Springsteen’s Nebraska haunt the record in a somewhat comforting way, as Granduciel questions “am I living in the space between the beauty and the pain”. Yet, even this melancholic intimacy appears Granduciel’s least lonely sounding track, in comparison to the entirety of Lost in The Dream. The employment of the hypnotic riff develops mid-way into the nearly seven minuet long track, adding to a controlled explosion of sound, of a haunted psyche. It is a stand out track of haunting, controlled sonic explosion and self-actualisation.
For fans of Lost in The Dream the track ‘Knocked Down’ feels the most reminiscent of their 2014 album. Yet, the track is ultimately less claustrophobic, giving us space to breath. ‘Nothing to Find’ follows, stepping out of ‘Knocked Down’s reverie, into a faster paced Springsteen-esque drive time track of pulsing energy. ‘Thinking of a Place’ becomes the longest track on the album, running in at 11:11 minuets, and as Granduciel reminisces “I’m thinking of a place, and it feels so very real”, we are drawn into a shimmery guitar solo, building into a collaborative ethereal moment. A sense of Red House Painter’s iconic, melancholic drawn out songs such as ‘Moments’ and ‘All Mixed Up’ are invoked, as likewise, The War On Drugs create a sense of peaceful liberation.
A Deeper Understanding winds down in catharsis with ‘In Chains’ and ‘You Don’t have to Go”, reinforcing the album’s incredible cohesion. The album moves through an intimate stream of consciousness, until an ethereal sense of calm is achieved, whereby Granduciel’s vocal hold a tender raspy authority. The War on Drugs, through A Deeper Understanding, gives us a deeper understanding of their cohesive ability, distinguishable sound through their employment of sonic layering, and of both old-school and current production styles.