Review: The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

Music can be a delicate, complex, absorbing craft, and few understand that more completely than Adam Granduciel of The War on Drugs. Over the course of the band’s near ten year existence, Granduciel has been slaving away in prolonged studio sessions to create some of the most enveloping and minutely-detailed indie rock on the market. With the release of 2014’s “Lost in the Dream,” a record that won multiple awards, and is now regarded as a modern classic, many wondered if the band had hit their ceiling. The War on Drugs’ latest album, “A Deeper Understanding,” blows any and all of these concerns away; not only has Granduciel composed some of his most complex and ethereal music yet, it’s more deeply felt than ever before.

From the record’s opening piano melodies in “Up All Night” the listener is immediately drawn into an ethereal heartland that is the music of The War on Drugs. The feeling of driving through a golden-sheened plain with the sun on your back is unshakeable with the group’s sprawling compositions. Granduciel’s breathy voice embodies melancholy, while the synth-laden, Spingsteen-esque music compositions tower and build into stunning arrangements.

The album features more concentrated poignancy than any War on Drugs album yet. If “Lost in the Dream” was rain on a windowpane, “A Deeper Understanding” is the setting sun peaking through the clouds. Somber tracks like “Pain” and “You Don’t Have to Go” are cutting, but also beautifully bright. But where the record really shines is with its epics. The single “Holding On” draws its energy from the greatest dance rock hits of the mid-80’s with a driving synth-line and moving melodies. The gargantuan track “Strangest Thing” is easily the record’s stand-out. The song features absolutely extraordinary guitar work (the recurring melody is remarkably beautiful), some of the most deeply felt solos I’ve heard in years, and some of the best lyrics Granduciel has ever written (“Am I just living in the space between the beauty and the pain?”). It very well may be the best track the band has ever put out.

In essence, “A Deeper Understanding” is a glorious presentation of a band at the peak of its prowess. The War on Drugs have taken what made their previous projects so engrossing, and boiled it down to the finest details. This chord compliments this chord, this melody fits with this one, and so on. The record is so meticulously constructed, and each track is a sumptuous feast for the ears. How The War on Drugs can even further hone their skills on their future releases eludes me. But with a group of this deep an appreciation and understanding of the musical craft, it’s bound to be something monumental.

9.0/10

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