The War on Drugs’ ‘A Deeper Understanding’ marks a crisp expansion of the group’s synthed-up classic-rock sound.

Annie Zaleski

Three and a half stars

The War on Drugs A Deeper Understanding

Like fellow critical darling Grizzly Bear, The War on Drugs jumped from an indie to a major label to release its new album. Anyone worried about detrimental changes to the Philadelphia band’s sound can rest easy, however: As its name implies, A Deeper Understanding marks a crisp expansion of the group’s synth-painted, classic rockers-in-the-’80s approach.

Roiling keyboards and mournful harmonica brighten the Smiths-like “Nothing to Find,” while soulful organ and Adam Granduciel’s chastened vocals enhance the somber, R&B-tinged meditation “Knocked Down.” A Deeper Understanding pairs these focused moments with sprawling arrangements that strike a balance between meandering and compelling. The 11-minute “Thinking of a Place” sounds like Spiritualized covering Bob Dylan, combining tranquil keyboard arcs and Granduciel’s wrinkled croon. Yet even the band’s usual echoes of Dire Straits (the blazing guitar jangle of “Strangest Thing”) and Bruce Springsteen (atmospheric, piano-cut “Clean Living”) possess more depth here. A Deeper Understanding succeeds by refining The War on Drugs’ sound in surprising and comforting ways.

Tags: Music, Album
  • At this point, the only constant from album to album is the band’s dedication to ambition.

  • “This record has very little insecurity. It was a blast to make, and it’s really fun to play live.”

  • Anyone who discovered COC at the band’s popular height should be satisfied with this effective return to the familiar.

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