A Deeper Understanding finds Philadelphia-based indie rock band, The War on Drugs, expanding on the revivalist spirit of their previous work. Frontman Adam Granduciel, is the visionary behind the band writing and producing all tracks. Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan comparisons may be inevitable, but the band’s classic rock sound is made relevant and fresh with nearly impeccable production value. With anthemic soundscapes and layered arrangements, Granduciel pays meticulous attention to detail.
The album opener, “Up All Night,” is held together by a hypnotic keyboard riff and heavy rhythmic percussion. The guitar solo midway the track is glossed over with glistening synth and feels like a long-winded jam session, really emphasizing the sense of freedom that The War on Drugs is so keen on. In the track “Holding On,” the synth acts as the backbone with the slide guitar and bells contributing to its uplifting spirit. Lyrics, however, are contemplative with phrases like “When we talk about the past, what are we talking of?/Did I let go too fast? Was I holding on too long?” Granduciel manages to fuse these contradictory elements in a way that makes for one of the strongest tracks on the record.
“Strangest Thing” is the better of the ballads. The structure is spaced out effectively, so the moments of intensity really deliver. Granduciel tells us he’s “just living in the space between the beauty and the pain.” When he sings of this woman, whoever she may be, she appears like a memory. In the track “Pain,” Granduciel tells her that he’s “just pulling on a wire that just won’t break.” He acknowledges that the two of them need to find a deeper understanding of who they are and where they stand with each other. Throughout the album, the notion of his desire to be on the same page in the relationship is evident.
“Thinking of a Place,” their first promotional single since the band’s 2014 “Lost in A Dream,” is the highlight of the record. The harmonica adds a sense of longing, while the guitar carries the song with profound feeling. The lyrics are poetic in nature and tell a story full of wonder. It is an 11-minute journey to wherever your mind wanders. Granduciel sings, “I’m thinking of a place and it feels so very real.” There is this yearning to be somewhere else, away from the past. This encompasses the themes of the album, which would have made this track an ideal closer.
The War on Drugs did not disappoint with A Deeper Understanding. Although the density of the instrumentation can make a full listen difficult to get through, the album is well-crafted. The band has reinvented classic rock with layers of dreamy synth, creating a sound unique to what is The War on Drugs. A Deeper Understanding is liberating and introspective, perhaps their most sophisticated album yet.
By Emily Afre