Formed in 2005, The War On Drugs are a Philadelphia born indie rock band who recently released A Deeper Understanding, their 6th studio album . This is a musical evolution from their first album's Bob Dylan cross 90's Britpop, indie influenced offering which still shows through in several songs on this album.
This release focuses on a heavily textured soundscape of synths, sometimes sombre, somewhat cliche but always theatrical vocals, reminiscent of a straight edge Morrissey mixed with mad guitar riffs and Fleetwood-esque basslines and percussion.
The first time I listened to this album the repressed-sneeze snare was a little too much and I could smell the expertly coiffed 80's haircuts but in the first few seconds of "Holding On" I'm reminded of Steve Reich's experimental works until the guitar and vocals come in and it evolves into an indie rock ballad and the album began to grow on me. "Strangest Thing" which followed, focuses on vocals and heavy guitar riffs and yet seems a lot more mellow and ambient, the album however takes a Tarantino style twist on the next track which still holds the vocals at a quite husky and emotional tone but the percussion is at a quicker pace and is followed by upbeat lead guitar. My ears pricked up and I began paying attention when "Knocked Down" mixed these chilled, almost Hawaiian, desert rock guitar hooks that lazily seem to glide along throughout, kicking out some serious reverb as they go and that style just sold it to me.
Whereas the penultimate song, "Clean Living", goes back to this very stripped back style with keys and vocals being the prominent features until it breaks with percussion, this seems to be the simmering down of the album and it all coming to a poignant head. The whole story arc is resolved with a warmer feeling, a happy/sad sort of goodbye song "You Don't Have To Go", which builds and seems filled with acceptance and growing.
This album seems to go back and forth through build ups and breakdowns that constant ebb and flow of human emotion and letting go, the story is resolved several times and then thrown off course again but concludes gently and comfortably again.
Compared to 2014's Lost in the Dream, this album is not so immediate, but with a few listens under my belt, I enjoyed its dulcet tones, warbling away in the background to my morning cup of tea. Give it time and I guarantee that after a short while, it will grow on you. You've got to work for the pay off, but when it comes, it's a lush, floaty and reverb soaked experience that will have you searching for their back catalogue which conveniently happen to be on Spotify!
Review by Sadie Fox