Perhaps it’s a reaction to the tumultuous times that we are living in, but many high profiles bands seem to be embracing the lighter themes and electric sounds with gusto. A Deeper Understanding, the newest offering by War On Drugs is no different.
That’s not to say that War On Drugs have ever been the deepest excavators of the darker side of life, but it doesn’t go unnoticed that the opening three tracks of their 2013 album, Lost In The Dream were named ‘Under The Pressure‘, ‘Red Eyes‘ and ‘Suffering‘. On their new album, the most striking thing about the opening track, ‘Up All Night‘ is the embrace of an overall sunny feel which can be attributed to a warm guitar tone and retro synth sounds. The hopeful ambiance prevails throughout the album even with songs like ‘Pain‘ and ‘Knocked Down,’ two tracks which although darkly named never dip their toe into the pool of sonic melancholy.
An artfully sequenced album, this dynamic album allows ebbs and flows of emotions with peaks like the opening track and the fast paced, radio friendly ‘Nothing To Find‘ coming in right in the middle of the album. The crisp guitar chords and tinkling synth lines contribute to a very palatable sound which questions why this wasn’t released as the main single.
While maintaining the recognisable War On Drugs sound, much of the drones and relentless fuzz from their earlier albums have been stripped away for a more essentialist, minimalist sound. However, Adam Granduciel‘s vocals are as distinct as ever while still adopting a more dynamic and elated kilter. Through his delivery, relatively simple lines are imbued with emotion which elevates their poetic potential. A particular image that sticks in mind is the lead single ‘Thinking Of A Place.‘ where he silkily sings “I’m moving through the dark of a long black night/And I’m looking at the moon, and the light it shines”
Despite a couple of deviations, A Deeper Understanding mostly steers clear of the heavily orchestrated, anthemic songs with a majority of intricate and textured tracks. The closing song, ‘You Don’t Have To Go‘ showcases their talent for elaborate build ups, layering vocal harmonies, synth trills, and guitar licks while never letting the song descend into the post rock mess which occurred on earlier albums. The perfect end to this album, ‘You Don’t Have To Go‘ almost leads the audience to a sonic catharsis but instead leaves them wanting to go back for more.