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Review: The War on Drugs Bliss Out, Go Big on ‘A Deeper Understanding’

Review: The War on Drugs Bliss Out, Go Big on ‘A Deeper Understanding’

Philadelphia has always been known for lush music – from the richly orchestrated proto-disco Philly Sound to the kaleidoscopic psych scene that spawned the War on Drugs. Steadily widening the canvas since co-founder Kurt Vile’s departure, leader Adam Granduciel achieves full-on sonic rapture with his band’s latest LP, an abstract-expressionist mural of synth-pop and heartland rock colored by bruised optimism and some of his most generous, incandescent guitar ever.

Which is hardly to say the War on Drugs have become aboogie-till-you-puke jam band. Granduciel is still more about layered texturesand tight-woven phrases than he is about noodling, and anxiety still lurksunder heady aural comforts, laid out in his nasal, Dylanesque vocal tones. On “UpAll Night,” literal or metaphoric gunshots ghost the narrative, andhot-forged guitar lines push through confetti-cannon electronics. Therestrained builds make even subtle peaks feel ecstatic, like the spine-tinglingslide-guitar ascent midway through “Holding On,” or the squirmingfeedback, played by Granduciel like a hooked trout, preceding his solo on “StrangestThing.” There and elsewhere, his leads burn magnesium-bright, the sound ofa modern, low-key guitar hero who knows just when to lay back, and when to letrip. 

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