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The War on Drugs’ new album sounds like another masterpiece after their preview at Apogee Studio

The War on DrugsPhotos by Larry Hirshowitz // Written by Josh Herwitt //

The War on Drugs //
Apogee Studio – Santa Monica, CA
August 5th, 2017 //

In today’s hypercompetitive, oversaturated music industry, following a great album with an even greater one can be a tall task for any band, no matter how much commercial success it has had.

Adam Granduciel, for one, should know that by now.

Because when the once-Philadelphian dropped The War on Drugs’ third LP Lost in a Dream more than three years ago on longtime indie label Secretly Canadian, there was no way for him to know what the response would be. As the band’s frontman and primary songwriter, Granduciel and a rotating cast of sidekicks had received a modest amount of fanfare up to that point, with 2011’s Slave Ambient garnering critical acclaim from the music media, but nothing quite like what he would amass by the end of 2014.

After debuting at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 chart, Lost in a Dream would go on to produce five singles and top numerous “Best Album of the Year” lists, earning universal praise from fans and critics alike. It’s an album, with plenty of depth both lyrically and sonically, that’s undeniably one of the best soundtracks for the open road — a modern-day hybridization of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart all rolled into one aural experience that fits perfectly as you roar down a long stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere with the top down on your 1967 Ford Mustang convertible.

The War on Drugs

Granduciel’s raspy voice, as well as his driving (no pun intended) guitar rhythms and reverb-laden riffs, are largely what separates The War on Drugs from the rest in a crowded indie-rock scene, but the sum of the band’s parts — Charlie Hall (drums), David Hartley (bass), Anthony LaMarca (guitar, keyboards), Robbie Bennett (keyboards) and finally Jon Natchez (saxophone, keyboards) — also creates a sound that while familiar, still feels uniquely different. And as we came to find out last Saturday night in Santa Monica, that formula only continues to shine on The War on Drugs’ forthcoming record A Deeper Understanding, which they previewed in part during their private show for KCRW’s Apogee Sessions.

The last time we were invited to Apogee Studio, we were lucky enough to catch psychedelic indie rockers Spoon (read our review here) performing songs off their new album titled Hot Thoughts before unleashing it earlier this year. But in the same way Britt Daniels’ departure from Los Angeles and return to Texas informed Spoon’s latest studio effort, Granduciel also told KCRW Music Director Jason Bentley during a brief interview midway through the group’s performance that his recent move to the City of Angels provided the same kind of inspiration during the writing and recording process for A Deeper Understanding.

With the LP’s release date set for August 25th, it won’t be long before the whole world gets to hear what Granduciel and company have been up to over the last two years — and after what we heard inside Apogee Studio, there’s a lot to be excited about. Opening with “Pain”, which they released just one day prior, The War on Drugs presented four other tracks from A Deeper Understanding, including their single “Holding On” that picks up right where Lost in a Dream left off, before closing the first set with “An Ocean Between the Waves”, a seven-minute-plus voyage through peaks and valleys that ranks right up there with their more celebrated songs like “Red Eyes” and “Under the Pressure”.

Though we only got to hear half of A Deeper Understanding, what we did get to hear from the 10-track LP felt like something that believe it or not, has all the makings to be just as special as 2014’s Lost in a Dream. That may be hard to fathom considering that the band’s luster has likely worn off by now, but if so, it will be a testament to Granduciel’s vision and an ability to forge a deeper connection with his bandmates than he has ever had to before. Unlike Lost in a Dream, which was written entirely by Granduciel, A Deeper Understanding has been coined a “band record,” and as we witnessed on this warm, summer night in Southern California, one that’s certainly worthy of our time and attention once again.

Setlist:
Pain
Holding On
Strangest Thing
Accidentally Like a Martyr (Warren Zevon cover)
An Ocean Between the Waves
In Reverse
Eyes to the Wind
Lost in a Dream
You Don’t Have to Go
Under the Pressure*

*Editor’s Note: “Brothers” was originally listed on the setlist

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