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CD REVIEW

The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding

by Ryan Reed on September 14, 2017


With The War on Drugs’ fourth LP, A Deeper Understanding, Adam Granduciel continues to pull off a tricky balancing act between cathartic Heartland-rock and atmospheric psychedelia—two styles which, on paper at least, seem roughly as far apart as his native Philadelphia and the California coast, a region where his music would sound right at home. He’s been massaging that sweet spot since his 2008 debut, Wagonwheel Blues, and every subsequent album has grown more lush and refined—each one step closer to some mythic destination that exists only in his brain. A Deeper Understanding never strays from that aim: Granduciel continues to layer reverb-heavy guitar leads, sweeping acoustic strums and motorik rhythms underneath a voice that, for better or worse, will never fail to recall the everyman grandeur of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. But one backstory factoid proves important: The frontman crafted this set as a “band album,” involving his studio collaborators a bit more than usual, and perhaps because of this, the energy level here reaches an all-time high. “Holding On” is a breathless rock anthem that, underneath its shimmering surface of glockenspiel and slide-guitar, chugs forward with the raw muscle of its New-Wave groove. And even when the tempo slows, like on the pure melancholy of “Strangest Thing,” the song packs the force of a live performance rather than an overdubbed-to-death demo. “Am I just living in the space between the beauty and the pain?” Granduciel asks himself in a gruff croon. His songs, too, occupy that space—one that still feels all his own.
Authors: Ryan Reed
Artist: The War on Drugs
Album: A Deeper Understanding
Label: Atlantic