Recently, The New Yorker asked, “Is The War on Drugs Rock’s Next Torchbearer?” Well, The War On Drugs won’t sell out festivals or pack arenas. They don’t dress like rock stars or trash hotel rooms. So if being the next “torchbearer” is what really matters to Adam Granduciel and Co., you’ll find it in the music. In their new album, A Deeper Understanding, the band seems unconcerned with popular success or commercial marketing, only committed to producing the best product possible.
The fourth full length release from the Philly rock outfit shows what a decade can do for the maturation of a touring band, punctuated by masterful production. Those ten years have seen frontman Adam Granduciel working to stitch the lines of blues, rock, and studio work back together. It is not unappreciated.
“Up All Night,” is a warm welcome — vivid synthesizer work, a few piano chords, and a buzzing drum sample— a breath of relief for diehard fans. After signing to Atlantic in 2014, concerns sprung up that the sonic elements that made Lost In A Dream the most critically acclaimed album of 2014 would be stunted. Throughout A Deeper Understanding, the band works to disprove that narrative.
Although The War on Drugs have always been steeped in nostalgia, they pull at the chains of genre to produce their art.
“Knocked Down” is the best example of The War On Drugs returning to form while pushing back against the mold of rock music. Although the band retains their signature sound, the track is slowed to a chugging pace, mirroring the lyrical lethargy. “Knocked Down” runs immediately into the chorusless “Nothing to Find.” It’s an exciting and thoughtful track that can’t avoid comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. Not the power rock or swooping jazz interludes of Springsteen, though — the energy.
An 11-minute ballad, “Thinking Of A Place,” serves to both underscore the incredible skill each member of the band has and reaffirm Granduciel’s lyrical dexterity. He’s a storyteller and a writer of substance, but at nearly 40, drawing on life experience is the only way he shows his age.
Although The War on Drugs have always been steeped in nostalgia, they pull at the chains of genre to produce their art. “I ain’t never going to change,” Granduciel sings at the end of powerhouse third track, “Holding On.” I don’t believe him.
The album ends similarly to how it began, a bookend on another stellar effort from a group that stands apart from trends, succeeding through skill and mutual respect for their work and fanbase. A Deeper Understanding is an album about love and discovery, a rare blast of positivity in an otherwise crowded field.