The War on Drugs has been a developing sensation in the Indie/Alternative genre since their founding in 2005. Each of their three albums has built upon the success of each prior offering. Their latest album, “A Deeper Understanding” which releases on August 25th, continues the band’s ascent into the higher ranks of the music world. Frontman and founder Adam Granduciel has again utilized his finely honed ear for nuanced grandeur and produced an alluring release.
The War on Drugs was founded by Granduciel and respected solo artist Kurt Vile in 2005 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While downing a few bottles of red wine the two considered possible band names and instantly appreciated the counterintuitive moniker The War on Drugs. Granduciel has quipped that their final choice came down to The War on Drugs or The Rigatoni Danzas, thankfully they chose well. Kurt Vile would bow out of the band early in its incubation just after the debut release to focus on his stellar solo career. Granduciel would recruit a number of band members to the War on Drug cause, with the current line up for “A Deeper Understanding” being; David Hartley on bass, Robbie Bennett on keyboards, Charlie Hall on drums, Jon Natchez on sax and keys and Anthony LaMarca on guitar. The band released their debut “Wagonwheel Blues” in 2008, in 2011 they released “Slave Ambient” and in 2014 the outstanding “Lost In a Dream”. “Lost in a Dream” would not only attract critical praise but go on to Certified Gold status in the UK, reaching 26 on the US charts, number 2 on UK Indie Charts and 18 on the overall UK album charts. The success of “Lost in A Dream” enabled the band to sign a two record deal with Atlantic in June of 2015.
“A Deeper Understanding” was recorded in both in LA and NYC studios. It was engineered by Shawn Everett of Alabama Shakes and Weezer fame. The main goal in the studio was to have the band operate as a collaborative unit building confidence and coordination throughout the process. Through it all there was a desire to give the outing the ambiguity and amorphous feel each War on Drugs album has in spades, all the while cloaking the almost compulsive drive for perfection that Granduciel has when approaching his craft. On “A Deeper Understanding” The War on Drugs succeeded on all fronts while making it all seem so easy. “A Deeper Understanding” captures the bittersweet regret of not accomplishing all you set out to do. It also attempts to convey the transition of the seasons in our lives and how it tints our everyday existence. Sonically it displays the absorbed wisdom from prior iconic musical practitioners like Bob Dylan and Neil Young along with other Rock and Roll giants, yet it is distinctively a War on Drugs release.
The album is a definite bright spot in the releases of 2017. It evinces a maturity and mastery that you would expect from a band on their fourth release, yet is also as fresh and captivating as a debut. There is nary a filler tune, each is a joy to listen to and does not get tired with repeated listens. There is an “Ah yes, but of course” gestalt sensation with each track. This begins with “Up All Night” the lead track of the release. It is bright and shimmering with a lovely sophistication that is effervescent, dramatic and otherworldly. It seems to effortlessly draw in the listener. This is continued throughout the release with other jaunty and energetic offerings like; the pre release single, “Hold On”, “Knocked Down” with its sinuous sincerity expressed on a heartfelt piano, and “Nothing to Find” which is trademark War on Drugs sonics. Each track contains enlightened insightful lyrics that are beautifully literate and engaging. But wait there is more, with spellbinding ballads that span from “Pain” which takes a page from Bob Dylan’s vocal delivery and phrasing styles to the crystalline ballad, “Strangest Thing” that identifies that anything worth having comes at a price including love. “In Chains” is a mid tempo selection that swings for the fences with its heart felt uplift and unapologetic splendour making for a hefty yet magnificent song. I would be remiss to not mention the keystone of the album, “Thinking of a Place” which is simply mesmerizing. It clocks in at 11 minutes but never feels it, as it weaves a hypnotic and epic spell. Do not miss the guitar solo which perfectly channels the bittersweet emotions of the piece.
The track lyrically is soul searching and expresses a desire to capture a moment forever, forlorn as it recognizes that the desire is impossible. There is a feeling of sustained awe throughout the release that makes for something extraordinary, demanding repeated listens because it is so multifaceted. The War on Drugs rises to the challenge of increasing expectations in a seemingly effortless fashion. There is always a concern when big record label gets involved with an idiosyncratic band like The War on Drugs. The fear is that there will be label interference that stunts the band’s instinctual creativity. Rather than die on the vine, War on Drugs seems to blossom producing their best effort to date.
“A Deeper Understanding” is consistently impressive. The dedication and finely honed taste of the band are evident. They have produced an album that bears repeated listens to catch all the beauty within. This is one album that will definitely make it onto my top albums list for 2017. If you have not yet availed yourself I highly recommend you get familiar with The War on Drugs. Rest assured, “A Deeper Understanding” is an extraordinary listen.