Moving from an indie to a major label surely puts on the pressure – for The War On Drugs, you’d imagine that’s the pressure to repeat what made such a splash for them last time. Adam Granduciel’s third album, 2014’s Lost In The Dream, was a slow-burning dark night of the soul, mixing the rock punch of Springsteen and the mystical wisdom of Dylan with the electronic textures of shoegaze. Now, having relocated from Secretly Canadian to Atlantic, Granduciel has crafted a follow-up with its own distinct, impressive personality.
The vibe is simpler, the songs more enhanced than swamped by mists of ambient sound, and Granduciel’s arrangements are glorious, with numerous guitar parts – acoustic, electric, 12-string and slide – interlocking like jigsaw pieces. Like Lost In The Dream, A Deeper Understanding mixes the old and the new, with harmonica, guitar and real drums colliding gloriously with all manner of synthesisers and drum machines.
In particular, Thinking Of A Place is an 11-minute delight with a superlative guitar solo and some heavenly synth swells, while Nothing To Find is an atmospheric motorik pop gem that comes on like Dancing In The Dark with a better snare sound.
The lyrical mood throughout is tentatively hopeful, like the sunrise after the early-hours crisis of Lost In The Dream. “I resist what I cannot change/And I wanna find what can’t be found,” sings Granduciel on Pain. “Pull me close and let me hold you in/Give me the deeper understanding of who I am…”
Granduciel occasionally references his interests a little too obviously – the mention of “a crooked highway” on Holding On, the over-tasteful piano and vibraphone on the glacial Knocked Down, or the general Brothers In Arms vibe – but ultimately, these are trivial gripes: A Deeper Understanding is the perfect soundtrack to speeding down a broken highway, or queuing on the M6, even.