The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding (Atlantic) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear

A Deeper Understanding


Aug 22, 2017 Issue #61 - Grizzly Bear Bookmark and Share

In 2014, indie rock’s resident crank Mark Kozelek caused a minor blog uproar over his out-of-nowhere feud with Philadelphia rock band The War on Drugs. Apparently upset The War on Drugs’ set had sound bleed with his set at a festival, Kozelek lashed out, referring to War on Drugs as “beer-commercial lead guitar shit” before finally recording a song called “War on Drugs: Suck My Cock.” Kozelek may have been kidding, or maybe he’s asshole-or both.

But Kozelek (and plenty of other self-described “music snobs”) needs to stop pretending that musical populism is an insult. Some of the greatest artists in history have been populists, and their art spoke to and for huge groups of people. So with the release of The War on Drugs’ new album, A Deeper Understanding, it’s wonderful that Granduciel didn’t take the criticism to heart. The War on Drugs do make rock that features loud lead guitars that should back beer commercials, but Kozelek’s suggestion that that’s a bad thing has no basis in reality (especially from a dude who did an entire album of AC/DC covers).

A Deeper Understanding, in fact, sounds like the best Bruce Springsteen album since the early ‘00s, minus some saxophone here and there. It’s easy to imagine The Boss singing album highlight “In Chains,” or egging the crowd on when the drums kick in on opener “Up All Night.” “Nothing to Find” could have been a Born in the U.S.A. outtake, with its synth line and ending “woo"s. But sounding like one of the best rock band of the past 50 years is rarely a bad thing. Hardly anyone is making this kind of music anymore (including Bruce Springsteen, for the most part) and The War on Drugs are great at it.

This is music to drive to, or to see in concert. Many of the songs on Deeper Understanding stretch over six minutes but they rarely feel as long as they are. Granduciel has a gift for adding the right sound at the precise moment it’s neededguitar solos are perfectly inserted (“Thinking of a Place,” “Up All Night,” etc.), ballads provide a perfect breather (“Clean Living”), and the epic builds are perfect (“Strangest Thing”).

A Deeper Understanding suffers a bit just in that The War on Drugs are no longer new on the scenethe album is more a distillation of the formula they toyed with on previous albums. It’s not as new anymore, but it sure sounds great. There’s something profound and moving in making music that moves listeners, and The War on Drugs have found a way to tap into that. (

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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