After The War on Drugs released their sophomore album Slave Ambient and guitarist Kurt Vile officially left to pursue a solo career, the band changed its approach, streamlining its sound, incorporating ‘80s heartland rock influences, and allowing frontman Adam Granduciel to assume almost total control over songwriting and recording. This paid off handsomely on the follow-up, 2014’s Lost in the Dream, which was a breakout success and topped many a year-end list.
As the band begins to roll out its fourth album, one wonders if Granduciel and Co. will ever undergo such a titanic sea change ever again, or if they’ll even alter the course slightly from the wildly successful Lost in the Dream formula. The first tracks we’ve heard from the upcoming A Deeper Understanding, “Thinking of a Place” and “Holding On,” seem to suggest that they won’t.
Following the epic lead single, which sounds like it could be the product of Granduciel turning on all of his presets from the last album and simply jamming out for eleven minutes, The War on Drugs has shared a more bite-sized offering that could have also fit neatly on the last album. “Holding On” is peppier, and makes more use of slide guitar and xylophone than any Lost in the Dream tracks, but its DNA is so similar that you can almost pick out the “Eyes to the Wind” riff in the background.
In truth, both of these new songs are more optimistic than the depressed fare Granduciel was writing for his band’s last album, and according to a press release, A Deeper Understanding features more input from other band members. Those are surface-level differences though. The War on Drugs has latched onto a sound so defining and rich that straying away from it seems preposterous at this point, especially when they’re writing such poignant and catchy tracks. They might as well continue to lean full bore into the whole ‘70s/’80s AM radio thing, which this time around includes copping album artwork cues from Billy Joel’s best-selling LP.
A Deeper Understanding is out on August 25th, just in time to soundtrack moody drives through late-summer twilights. Pre-order it from Atlantic Records.