zaterdag 9 september 2017

A Deeper Understanding. The War On Drugs

The war that is going on for decades and simply can't be won. There are too many people who enjoy the use of it, not counting those who have become compulsive users. So the band's name is quite provocative in the face of the stern U.S. government.

The band's previous album, album of the year in 2014 in many a poll, 'Lost In The Dream' in the end did not carry me away. In fact, for me it was too much Springsteen, an artist that I simply do not get. For the life of me I can't understand his popularity through the past decades and have a hard time naming five songs that I like. (Roy Bittan as pianist for David Bowie. Now that is another matter.)

Come 2017 and The War On Drugs releases its first album after the great breakthrough. Again the critics walk away with the band, as far as I read something on the album. In my local record store there was a record on, with a good, straightforward song playing, that had me thinking the whole time: 'who is this?'. It wasn't the band or artist I thought though. (I'm still trying to put a name to it.) Liking the next two songs as well, I brought the cd home. The LP was another of these insanely priced affairs, that I've decided to pass up on.

What I liked about what I heard was the combination of grandeur, a solid straightforward sound and an American pop element that sounded like the perfect mix. There wasn't a single Springsteen thought entering my mind, so there was nothing stopping me.

Having listened to the album as a whole by now, what strikes me, is that there seems to be nothing hinting at pressure to come up with a successful new record. Adam Granduciel is one of the lucky ones for who true success comes at a later age. Where the artist has reached a level of maturity and has worked hard to be where he is. That puts things somewhat in perspective. It seems to have allowed him to come up with, in my opinion, a better album than 'Lost In The Dream'.

Having heard the album multiple times since I wrote this introduction, allowed me to get an, ahem, deeper understanding of the album. My appreciation has certainly grown. On the other hand a little hesitation for the future grew also. Let me explain.

A Deeper Understanding is a solid affair. Seen from a distance it seems a monolith of sound. Something so solid that nothing can penetrate it. Step closer and I notice all these little spots that glisten on the sides of the monolith. Gems that are distributed without any hesitation nor discrimination. This can take the form of a fine guitar solo, the build-up of a song, the extra instrument(s) that is(are) added to the whole, making the song even more dense or the unsuspecting soft ballad. A Deeper Understanding is full of these moments. I am not even going to try to give examples. Everyone appreciating the album will find moments for him or herself to deeply enjoy. As such the album is deeply satisfying.

Without even touching close to Steely Dan's music, I'm reminded of the approach of its music in the music on A Deeper Understanding. Each song goes for the max and whatever is added has to fit into what is already there or requires complicated changes to what was there before. In other words the arrangements are intricate (inside of that monolith). A surprise is the Paul Simon nod that starts 'Knocked Down', one of the ballads.

And then 'Holding On' starts once again and I know: The Waterboys. That is why I couldn't figure it out straight away. Granduciel is singing somewhat like Mike Scott here with music that is far too solid for The Waterboys. Ah, problem solved.

Where my concern lies, is that because of the density of most songs, I may not grow to have a deeper relationship with the album. As most songs easily pass the five minutes and are dark at the outside, like the cover is, this adds to my concerns. It takes some stamina at times to sit through the whole album. Which could lead to playing the album less in the future. It is time to listen with my headset on. To discover even more. The basis for a lasting relationship is laid. I'll have to see what happens next.

For now, it is easy to conclude that one of the bigger releases this year totally satisfies. The War On Drugs won me over with A Deeper Understanding. It took a while, but I'm there.


You can listen to 'Holding On' here:

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