On the frontier between beauty and pain

By Sergio Ariza

As they say on the Strangest Thing, The War On Drugs’ A deeper understanding has placed the group on that fine line that separates beauty and pain. The band’s new album represents a clear continuation from Lost in the dream - the record that catapulted them to fame three years ago - and proves again that Adam Granduciel and his band still know how to put goosebumps on the skin of their listeners.  

There will be those who view these ten songs as the epitome of monotony and boredom, but they will not be appreciating their complexity. Built upon monolithic drumming that maintains a rhythm without flourishes - in this sense occupying a place that is close to the famous 'Motorik' of Krautrock, - each of these songs provides a canvas upon which Granduciel plays the role of painter, adding layer upon layer to provide depth. A nod to this can be found on the album’s cover, in which this well-known perfectionist appears in the shadows - while the instruments appear illuminated. This is comprehensible if you bear in mind that in the first song alone, Up all night, Granduciel plays electric guitar, mellotron, synthesizer Yamaha CS-5, a piano, Hammond organ and a Wurlitzer electric piano. Another example is the marvellous Thinking of a place, which begins with synthesizers that resemble a slow awakening, which are then joined by the keyboards, drums and a gentle bassline, along with other background effects. Granduciel’s voice does not appear until one minute 16 seconds have passed - whispering in his best Dylan style - which is followed by a beautifully light soothing variation in the music, and then by the chorus that seems to flow in a spontaneous way for the remainder of the song. A strongly distorted guitar emerges in the third minute, a là Neil Young
, to evoke that beautiful melancholy that the group is so well-known for. It lasts more than 11 minutes, but could be double the length without being boring.

However if one thing were to be chosen that Granduciel has especially taken care of, it must be the sound of the guitars. He knows the importance of a good solo; always employing it at a particular moment so that the music soars and communicates a special feeling to the listener. He is not so much focused on technique, or speed - rather he is seeking to complement the song in the best way and to stimulate the listener. It might be that his main reference here is the aforementioned Young, as the best six-string moments arrive when he grabs his Gretsch White Falcon, in Pain and Thinking of a place, to which he added a Bigsby, after seeing the giant Canadian playing live. But there is time to enjoy a lot more guitars from his collection such as the omnipresent 72 Les Paul, his favourite; an SG 66, in the parts with most ‘feedback’; a Jazzmaster; or a Japanese Squier Strat 80 in Nothing to find, to get that jangling sound, (although here you can also hear the White Falcon and the SG).

Perhaps he has not managed to surpass the huge Lost in the dream but at least, I believe, he has equaled it.  A deeper understanding, like other records before it, is not a step in a new direction, it is the reinforcement of a way of doing things and a particular sound. It is, in sum, the consolidation of War On Drugs as one of the great bands of our time.