A Deeper Understanding of Who I Am

‘More of the same’ is a common musical chirp wielded by “the internet’s busiest music nerd,” Anthony Fantano. Eyes rolling, hands in the air, he’s used the label to dull releases from Future Islands and ODESZA, and despite the initial urge to rush to their defense, it’s hard to counter.

New Future Islands sounds like old Future Islands. ODESZA will always sound like metal clattering through a rain storm. The alternative, and what Fantano must be looking for, is musical reinvention, exemplified best by Childish Gambino, who with his most recent album, Awaken My Love, vaulted himself from nasally rapper to bonafide soul-king.

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The War on Drugs’ latest release, A Deeper Understanding (2017) is no sonic revolution. We hear the familiar sounds of dad rock – delay pedals, fuzzy guitars and Adam Granduciel’s crooning voice. Unsurprisingly, Fantano isn’t having it.  But having induced a nostalgic fervor with their last album, Lost In The Dream (2014), it’s possible that when it comes to The War on Drugs, more of the same is exactly what we want.

On A Deeper Understanding, frontman, Adam Granduciel, takes more musical risks and we travel further into the band’s sonic headspace, a place mired by pain.

“I met a man with a broken back / he had a fear in his eyes I could understand.”

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Many tracks surpass the six minute mark, a holy metric for classic rock songs with dizzying solos, easy to fill, but difficult to pull off.  Nonetheless, Granduciel goes for greater heights, unafraid to scrape the zenith of his guitar playing abilities.

But the true potential of A Deeper Understanding may be in its reception. Just warranting a review on The Needle Drop is an odd form of recognition – whether the review is good or bad, people notice. So much so that The War on Drugs are launching into the mainstream, inhabiting places like 107.7 “The Bone” and 98.9 WCLZ, where Granduciel will continue tapping into their main source of power – nostalgia.

The War on Drugs – Thinking of a Place

According to David Bevan’s article on Pitchfork, at one point Adam Granduciel was so anxious that after he cut the basic tracks for “Red Eyes” in Hoboken. NJ, he worried about never witnessing its release.

Oh man, I hope I don’t die before this record comes out, because I want people to hear that song.

It’s impossible to listen to The War on Drugs without feeling some sort of malaise. Their 2014 album, Lost in a Dream, has track names like, “Red Eyes”, “Suffering”, “Under Pressure” and “Disappearing.” When you read David Bevan’s article you understand the severity of Granduciel’s depressive state (“today is just going to be another long, shitty fucking day”). But there was a turning point – a moment when Granduciel started to understand that making music was for him a powerful and cathartic process.

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The War on Drug’s newest release, Thinking of a Place, rings with the same melancholic wandering, but you can hear a turning point personified at 5:50. Where most songs fade to meet their natural end, Adam Granduciel hesitates, and for a moment hangs on this precipitous ledge, as if weighing his options. Then, Granduciel relights his heaving, undulating guitar to dive back in.

I’m moving through the dark

Of a long black night

And I’m looking at the moon

And the light it shines

The War on Drugs – Red Eyes

As you can tell from flowebro’s last post, we’re big fans of the roady here at The Aftermath. This past weekend I drove to Northern California for a weekend on Shasta Lake. With a long trip ahead and the heat outside hitting the 100’s, I honed in on one of my favorite road trippin’ songs: Red Eyes by The War on Drugs.

Take a listen to Tom Petty’s musical doppelganger.