Three and a half years distant from the release of The War on Drugs’s universally acclaimed 2014 record Lost in the Dream comes A Deeper Understanding, a testament to the ambitious art of album making and modern rock and roll.
For the better part of that period, the band’s frontman and driving force, Adam Granduciel, led the charge for his Philadelphia-based sextet, persevering through both triumph and struggle as he holed up in studios on both American coasts to write, record, edit, and tinker - but, above all, to busy himself in work. Teaming up with engineer Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Weezer), Granduciel challenged the notion of what it means to create a fully realized piece of music in today’s modern landscape. Calling on his bandmates continuously throughout the process, the result is a “band record” in the noblest sense, featuring collaboration, coordination, and confidence on each level and at every turn. Through those years of relocation, the revisiting and reexamining of endless hours of recordings, unbridled exploration and exuberance, and even acute physical pain, Granduciel’s gritty love of his craft succeeded in pushing the band to great heights while creating The War on Drugs’s finest work to date.
The resulting mood of A Deeper Understanding is one of cohesive harmony. Amidst all those years of tape, sweat, and dedication, ten rock and roll songs remain - some of which had been there all along, just beneath the surface. “Sometimes you just have to plug a mic in, press record, and plug away,” he says. “Some of the most important stuff I got out of the record was when I was the most frustrated by the process.” By immersing himself in his work, as well as to celebrate the simple joy of being in a band with his best friends, Granduciel knows how to find himself just as well as he knows how to lead his band to a song. From the bouncy, pulsing drive of the bass line on “Holding On,” with the song’s chiming keys and distorted synth breakdown washing over shimmery chords and elastic, stretchy lead guitar, to the tape loops and mournful harmonica blasts of “In Chains,” to the buzz-and-throb and fuzzed-out guitar artillery on “Up All Night,” XXX truly cooks, and paints a portrait of a modern rock and roll band actualizing their full potential and intention. Perhaps the lesson of the album is that of learning to let go and to recognize what has been present all along.