The Daily Gamecock

Latest The War on Drugs album demonstrates growth, ambition

Release Date: August 25

Label: Atlantic Records 

Duration: 1 hour 6 minutes

Grade: B+

The War on Drugs’ fourth album, “A Deeper Understanding,” couldn’t have a better title. Released three years after their commercial breakthrough, “Lost in the Dream,” The War on Drugs has returned to bring us an eclectic yet consistent album. Producer, frontman and primary songwriter Adam Granduciel has combined Bruce Springsteen heartland and railing guitar shredding with A Flock of Seagulls synth ornamentation.

The breadth of Granduciel's musical ideas would overwhelm any inferior or less driven musician. “A Deeper Understanding” crosses so many boundaries between folk, Americana, psychedelic rock and pop, that anyone can relate to some piece of it. It’s like he’s recorded a soundtrack to the spaced-out American dream.

The opening track, “Up All Night,” starts with a parlour piano riff that leads into the first lyric, “I don’t know / I’ve been away.” Granduciel devotes so much energy into his own productions that it's not too surprising that he's been busy lately. Most of the lavish, expansive elements to the album's structure are so consistent that it can feel like they’ve been left unchecked, but it only proves Granduciel knows that it’s what you don’t pay attention to in music that makes it standout in the long run.

The next track, “Pain,” leaps into your head with authenticity: “I was staring into the light / When I saw you in the distance, I knew that you’d be mine.” The song starts out optimistic about how he can finally change, but later delves into Granduciel's realization that he’ll only ever know the misery he's grown accustomed to.

The album’s title comes from how Granduciel deals with this revelation. He found something at the end of the rainbow and seems to have grown in some incalculable way. The album cover is his most minimalistic yet — Granduciel is sitting in his studio staring into the camera. Listeners are checking in on the grind of the process, while simultaneously soaking in the finished product.

Granduciel is keen on creating steady currents with his songs. He stays away from the standard three-minute rock single. The shortest song is nearly four minutes in length, and the next shortest is over five minutes. The longest piece, “Thinking of a Place,” clocks in at over 11 minutes. He sings about darkness and how someone can lead him towards the light.

Ultimately, “A Deeper Understanding” does not live up to the quality of “Lost in the Dream,” which was the story of a man finding himself. His new album focuses on living with his discovery, and it's nowhere near as exciting. It is more of a sit-down album that requires multiple listens to fully grasp. 

With most popular music going in the opposite direction — more of a focus on singles and creativity — Granduciel still sticks to the old model of taking your time and not caring if he comes on the radio or not. “A Deeper Understanding” will probably not reach everyone’s ears, but it did reveals Granduciel as an artist, and that's the important thing.