The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

The War on Drugs

A Deeper Understanding (2017)


The War on Drugs are never an easy listen. In fact, they're one of the most emotionally heavy acts around today. If you're addicted to them, I'd bet you're an experienced person who's probably experienced a lot of life's rigors and simply relate. That's what draws me to the chief architect in the band in writer and vocalist Adam Granduciel. He often leads records that I connect with way too much and while they're long and at times too drawn-out, they just hit home. Hard. A Deeper Understanding continues this trend but it feels more organic as a story to someone in their 30's like me. This time around, more of the depth sticks to my ear and honestly, while the record could have been a bit shorter with some fat trimmed, it really feels like a work of art.

And I should mention that this was expected. It's tough to call this their best work yet but it stacks up. Some bands fade under a big label but this debut on Atlantic sprawls and flourishes more. From the twinkles and shimmery essence of "Pain" you can tell that Granduciel got to do what he wanted to in the studio. Everything goes on to feel orchestral and so full in sound -- from the synth to the strings to the piano keys. Even the indie-rock fast paced jams like "Holding On" and "Nothing To Find" feel better with the polish. I would have loved this record as an EP because these tracks feel much more resonating under an hour with the middling fillers cut out. But that said, what works, works.

The slow burn of Americana despair here paints a man falling in and out of love with life constantly and this quiet turbulence has always been the draw for TWoD. For fans of old and with a wider range on tap here, it'll surely be for fans anew. As the record winds down into the melodic-to-soaring tracks such as "Clean Living" and "You Don't Have To Go" you can see the vulnerability and drama painted in. It's an opus that does require a deeper understanding but it also indicates that as you get older, this is exactly what will come. Kudos for these slow, key-driven and soothing songs that peel away the layers and leave us exposed.  As I said, this was expected. Long and loses steam at times, but it delivers.