The title of The War on Drugs' fourth album is both a lyric on the second track, Pain, and a reference to the Kate Bush song of the same name. The Bush song in question is an exploration of humanity's hollow relationship with technology, but that has little to do with the themes explored on A Deeper Understanding; rather, War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel's album is both an introspective and expansive journey to find a modern rock sound that positions him as an auteur of his own work - and Granduciel succeeds, brilliantly.
The 10 tracks on A Deeper Understanding are so nuanced and layered that it's astounding Granduciel did most of the writing and production alone. Fiery guitar solos lift a number of songs to towering heights, and a liberal use of keys and synths give Granduciel's songs the same kind of strength and complexity that ensemble bands such as Arcade Fire gather from six or more bandmates.
Sweetest Thing - which Granduciel began writing in New Zealand - skyrockets from an ambient slow jam into a stadium-sized rock anthem, wringing startling levels of emotion out of a repeated singular riff that becomes colossal during the song's climax. Thinking of a Place is an ambient, textured voyage that clocks in at 10 minutes; it drifts, not aimlessly, across multiple terrains of love, exploring the spaces between - "There's a rhythm in the way that we've been moving/There's a darkness over there, but we ain't going".
The record feels like inward meditation, and there's a sense that Granduciel is finding clarity in darkness - but he always manages to remain a step ahead, withholding just enough to tantalise the listener. That's inherent to what makes A Deeper Understanding so fascinating; at more than an hour long, each listen expands and builds on the one before - but no matter how submerged one becomes, there's always room to look deeper.
The War on Drugs, A Deeper Understanding
The War on Drugs
A Deeper Understanding
A gloriously sprawling deep-dive into the mind of a rock genius