The War on Drugs have gifted us with their fresh, modern take on classic rock for some time now.
Their sonic homage to the past creates a sense of sentimentality, of movement and importance, as if guiding the listener through a kind of nostalgia of the present.
‘Up all night’ kicks off their new album sounding like a modernised and energetic ‘Dancing in the Dark’ but with Bob Dylan on vocals. Despite the lack of any distinctive idiosyncrasy, it’s driving drumbeat and simple piano riff sounds timeless and exciting already, even before the ethereal guitar solos take over and lift up the remainder of the track.
The twinkling synths, bouncing bass of ‘Holding On’ continue this theme of almost cinematic movement. Lyrics of going “down a crooked highway” after being “rejected” for the last time highlight the feeling that A Deeper Understanding is the sonic equivalent to those all-or-nothing road trips in the movies, where the protagonist experiences the ultimate escapism of disappearing, making new memories, taking everything with you and refusing to look back.
This feeling of reflection dominates the album, the verses on the 11 minute ‘Thinking of a Place’ start with phrases like “I remember” or “once I had a dream”, while the introspective ‘Knocked Down’ sees Granduciel’s whispery “I wanna love you but I get knocked down” float atop a simple drumbeat subtly decorated by reverb-y guitars. ‘Strangest Thing’ too, is a brooding, meditative track where lyrics of “am I just living in the space between the beauty and the pain?” linger before escalating into a euphoric instrumental of drawn out synths and hazy guitars.
This reflection doesn’t feel like a mirror to the past though, more a catharsis necessary to move on. The band’s sound has improved massively, it’s more exciting, more vital and unique. ‘In Chains’ sounds defiant and angry and though closer ‘You Don’t Have To Go’ has a certain vulnerability to it, the feeling of triumph and hope pervades, but this time there’s a sense it’s for the future.