THE waR ON DRUgS a Deeper Un­der­stand­ing

Gran­duciel ad­mits a little more light.

UNCUT - - New Albums - By Jason An­der­son

IN the songs of Adam Gran­duciel, it can feel like it’s al­ways 3am. His lyrics con­tain just as many ref­er­ences to dark­ness – both lit­eral and fig­u­ra­tive – as they do to his de­sires to find a way out or maybe just get a little rest. But clearly The War On Drugs’ main man is used to the state of mind that typ­i­cally ac­com­pa­nies the wee hours, which is not so sur­pris­ing given his rep­u­ta­tion for painstak­ing per­fec­tion­ism. Among his other en­e­mies of sleep are the feel­ings of anx­i­ety and iso­la­tion that he ex­pressed so starkly in the most dimly lit pas­sages of Lost In The Dream, the Philadel­phia band’s mov­ing, mes­meris­ing and much-lauded third al­bum that hogged the top spot in be­stof-year lists (in­clud­ing Un­cut’s) in 2014. Which­ever in­ner de­mon de­serves the credit, it puts a long stretch of high­way in be­tween him and the dawn’s early light.

Sure enough, A Deeper Un­der­stand­ing opens with the first of sev­eral new tracks that sit­u­ate Gran­duciel back in the time and place he knows so well. In “Up All Night”, his ag­i­ta­tion has him “spin­nin’ round on the floor”, as he sings in a raspy mur­mur. A gor­geous ex­er­cise in yearn­ing that finds Gran­duciel at his most Dy­lanesque, “Pain” be­gins with the in­struc­tion to “go to bed now” – alas, there’s more brood­ing to do. In the equally win­some “Clean Liv­ing”, he ad­mits that “Some­times I’ll lay in the dark/ Just to see if I can feel a spark.”

At other times, he seems to have a new rea­son to be awake. As he puts it in “Up All Night”, it’s “some feel­ing I can’t break”, some­thing that’s “glow­ing” and that he can’t un­der­stand. In “Think­ing Of A Place” – the al­bum’s 14-minute cen­tre­piece, a haunt­ing, gen­tly shift­ing reverie of a love that got lost some­where near the banks of the Missouri river – there’s more talk of light creep­ing in, of “movin’ with the moon” and morn­ing ar­riv­ing to help bust up the old ways of feel­ing and think­ing. He doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily know what to call “all th­ese changes I don’t un­der­stand”, as he puts it in “Noth­ing To Find”, one of the most im­me­di­ately en­gag­ing new songs. But maybe a guy with his dis­po­si­tion is too wary to cop to feel­ing hap­pier, which he has every right to th­ese days given his band’s con­tin­u­ing rise in for­tunes (in­clud­ing a new deal with At­lantic) and his own ro­mance with ac­tress Krys­ten Rit­ter of Jes­sica Jones and Break­ing Bad fame. Plus there’s all the sun­shine he en­coun­tered af­ter de­camp­ing to Los An­ge­les to record most of A Deeper

Un­der­stand­ing, even if Gran­duciel re­cently ad­mit­ted his ref­er­ence points for quin­tes­sen­tial LA records are War­ren Zevon and Tonight’s The Night rather than any­thing that sounds like it has a great tan.

So even though much of the al­bum may guide us through more long, dark nights of the soul, there’s a new bright­ness at the edges here, and more warmth, too. While the sound is as ob­ses­sively lay­ered and tex­tured as ever, it ben­e­fits from a beefier low end, The War On Drugs hav­ing shifted out of the tre­bly ten­den­cies that were part and par­cel with the shoegazer and psych in­spi­ra­tions more preva­lent on Lost In The

Dream and 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues. New songs like “Hold­ing On” – more proof of Gran­duciel’s ge­nius at build­ing a Spring­stee­nian heart­land rocker out of such un­likely com­po­nents as a mo­torik groove and his ar­se­nal of vin­tage synths – ben­e­fit from a greater em­pha­sis on band per­for­mances, too. Hunker­ing down in a se­ries of stu­dios in LA and New York with Alabama Shakes en­gi­neer Shawn Everett, Gran­duciel mod­i­fied his of­ten soli­tary work­ing meth­ods to cre­ate more room for drum­mer Char­lie Hall, bassist Dave Hart­ley and key­boardist Rob­bie Ben­nett, his most loyal col­lab­o­ra­tors since The War On Drugs evolved from a loose as­sem­blage of Philly pals to a more pro­fes­sional op­er­a­tion. The two multi-in­stru­men­tal­ists who fill out the band’s reg­u­lar live lineup, Jon Natchez and Anthony LaMarca, make sim­i­larly valu­able ap­pear­ances.

The re­sult is some of the rich­est, most com­pelling and least lonely-sound­ing mu­sic of Gran­duciel’s ca­reer. And that’s true even of songs as beau­ti­fully for­lorn as “Clean Liv­ing”, on which Gran­duciel weath­ers a trou­bled time by pro­vid­ing him­self with a pep talk (“I know my way around it/I’ve been do­ing al­right”) and a deftly ar­ranged mu­si­cal set­ting that fore­grounds Ben­nett’s Rhodes, Natchez’ bari­tone sax and the singer’s own con­tri­bu­tions on pi­ano and har­mon­ica. “Knocked Down” is another ex­pres­sion of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and feel­ing “beaten up and

weak” that ex­udes strength and re­silience. Else­where, The War On Drugs shed the more lugubri­ous ten­den­cies that some­times dog them, reach­ing max­i­mum cruis­ing speed when the pro­grammed beats kick in half­way through “Up All Night”, a swirl of fuzz and rhythm of a kind rarely heard since An­drew Weather­all remixed My Bloody Valen­tine. Gran­duciel sounds just as free of his de­mons when he croons a few “woo-hoos” over the cas­cad­ing synths of “Noth­ing To Find”, which is to Spring­steen’s “Glory Days” what Lost In The Dream’s “Burn­ing” was to “Danc­ing In The Dark”. At times like th­ese, the night that once seemed end­less isn’t so long at all.

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