Opening an album with the lyrics “I don’t know, I’ve been away” after a three year wait could almost be deemed a poor excuse. But you know by now that with The War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel, it’s never quite as superficial as that. The master of introspection is back to follow up the masterpiece that is Lost in the Dream and you can see from the singles released that The War on Drugs mean business. Four epic swirling shoegaze-Springsteen psychedelic slow burners later and you think you know a band. But A Deeper Understanding is true to it’s title and plunges even more new musical and personal depths than their breakthrough album did.

The album opens with ‘Up All Night’, a song to connect with to demean the hours spent awake rather than to celebrate them. It’s true to the formula they kept on Lost in the Dream, but it seems deeper (that word again, sorry) and more human than the sometimes robotic beasts their previous album offered. The song is a solid but slow start, before their newest single ‘Pain’ ironically gives the album a lift. Taking a traditional roots rock direction, this song sounds like America. Granduciel’s Dylan-esque vocals croon over a landscape of classic Petty and Springsteen, before the exact guitar solo from ‘The Rising’ returns from it’s time-travel trip to the year 2040, closing the song in euphoric style. The Springsteen-aping continues with ‘Holding On’, which if The Boss himself had penned perhaps could have become a modern classic. The pace drops with the astounding ‘Stranger Thing’ but the beauty remains. If the previous two echo’s some of Bruce’s more upbeat classics, this takes it’s cues from ‘Racing in the Street’ or even a much cooler ‘Free Fallin’’. The guitars at the end resonate with the core of the universe, it’s the sound of the earth spinning calamitously through the stratosphere.

The album flows with a gentle ease, each song complimenting the last. When you’re feeling in the mood to indulge in the atmospheric dirges, they comply. When a welcome change of pace is needed, you get it. The genius lies in The War on Drugs’ simplicity, as well as their textural minefield. The euphoria gets even more unbearable when a harmonica gets thrown into the mix during the lighter moment of ‘Nothing to Find’. This album won’t get the same kind of blown-out-of-the-water reaction as Lost in the Dream did- but only due to the subtleties of the earworms thrown in to these magnificent songs. There’s nothing like ‘Red Eyes’ on here- because that’s not what this band are about. It’s not about what you hear, it’s about what you feel. And that is why The War on Drugs have provided us a late contender for album of the year.

Words: James Kitchen