Record Player

A record player in the window, representing music from all genres. 

Perfectionism is both a gift and  curse for many artists. The trait tormented Kanye West enough to have several “Life of Pablo” songs undergo post-release revisional edits. It forced Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker to take over every creative position in his band — producer, arranger and songwriter. 

Perfectionism plagues the production of The War On Drugs. Singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel takes a similarly demanding approach to recording music. But the result is a brand of heartland rock that’s as evolutionary as it is casual.  

“A Deeper Understanding,” released on Aug. 25, is the band’s latest continuation of this evolution. And like 2014’s “Lost in the Dream,” it’s a near-perfect record. Synths and pianos take a firmer hold on the sound of “A Deeper Understanding,” but as its name suggests, the record further explores the essence of classic rock.  

First-time listeners of The War On Drugs may be quick to point out its mid-1980s doppelgangers. Granduciel’s voice carries the unmistakably rough drawl of Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. Instrumentally, The War On Drugs’ songs always provide an easily accessible, guitar-heavy groove. This is dad-rock inspired music — pure and simple. 

But it’s the deviations from these influences that have lent the band a firm critical and commercial foothold. Lyrics about young love, cars and Christianity are replaced with themes of introspective loss, drug use and existential grapplings. The War On Drugs isn’t the second coming of Springsteen, but rather the next evolutionary step in roots rock. 

Ethereal guitar tones are aided by a louder bass guitar in “A Deeper Understanding.” The synth and piano parts in particular add a steady pulse to each song. For “Holding On,” it provides the song with a backbone for the other instruments to shine. 

Lyrically, Granduciel continues to explore the fractured state of his mind and behavior. In the song “Pain,” he sings, “I resist what I cannot change / And I wanna find what can’t be found.” This disconnect between desire and need is a crucial thematic concern in The War On Drugs’ music. 

“A Deeper Understanding” revives “Lost in the Dream” at almost every level. Though they differ in energy, “A Deeper Understanding” is undoubtedly a more mature and defined work. With it, The War On Drugs continues to shape the modern trajectory of rock music.  

Contact Drew Cowen at cowends@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.