The War On Drugs: "I've only just scratched the surface of what's possible"
With his latest album A Deeper Understanding, Adam Granduciel has borrowed from some of the greats of the 80s and fashioned a record filled with bittersweet melodies and enveloping drama
The music that Adam Granduciel makes has grown more extravagant with each record he has made as The War On Drugs. For 2008’s debut, Wagonwheel Blues, he was channelling Bob Dylan gone ambient. Neil Young and Krautrock entered the landscape of the follow-up, Slave Ambient in 2011. On this year’s fourth, A Deeper Understanding, Granduciel picks up the gauntlet he laid down for himself on the much-acclaimed Lost In The Dream in 2014 and runs with it to a far-flung horizon where the 80s haven’t ended.
Overall, sonically A Deeper Understanding follows in the footprints made all through that decade by artists such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, Don Henley, Fleetwood Mac, Roxy Music, Dire Straits and Kate Bush, from whose 1989 song Granduciel took his album’s title. It contains great tidal washes of synths, pulsating bass lines, booming drums and guitar solos that soar above the whole like the fighter planes of Top Gun. Like over-inflated balloons, Granduciel fills and stretches out his songs almost to their bursting point, but never quite. It’s a precarious high-wire act. And yet for all the sheer bigness of its structural engineering, A Deeper Understanding is an intimate, immersive experience.
Running through it, Granduciel establishes a singular mood of rueful regret. His bittersweet melodies rise up and tug at the listener like lost souls. In that regard, it brings to mind Dylan’s late-80s masterpiece Oh Mercy, and most of all Petty’s Long After Dark from 1982. As with each of those finely crafted records, just beneath their pristine surface are darker undercurrents and a surging sense of drama.
“For sure, Long After Dark is a touchstone record for me,” Granduciel offers. “I remember a time, not even that long ago, when that period of music was reviled,” he continues, warming to his theme. “Yet the number of people that are now referencing eighties Dylan is pretty remarkable. It wasn’t intentional, but we might have had that haze floating over things. I didn’t discover all of that stuff until nine, ten years ago and when I got out of my comfort zone and started to dig a little. It was like cracking a code.”