“Rock is dead.” “Music isn’t what it used to be.” Such statements are the rallying cry of many dissatisfied adolescents. Those who are convinced that they have been dropped into the auditory equivalent of a post-bombed Dresden wish that they could have been there to see Jim Morrison swagger or stagger onto stage and deliver some bluesy, psychedelic epic.
Such arguments are made invalid by albums like A Deeper Understanding by The War on Drugs. Sure, this group and those who are similar may not be in the mainstream anymore, but with some amateur detective work, they can be found and enjoyed nonetheless.
Maybe we are listening to rock as an injured animal, defensive and confused, no longer infused with the vitality of its golden era. If so, it would be a hell of a good fall to witness. Who wouldn’t pay for front row tickets to watch the fall of Rome?
A Deeper Understanding dropped on Aug. 25, at the rather grim meeting point between summer and fall. The album plays like a cohesive, almost linear, wave of aural stimulation. But like the eye when subjected to darkness—it eventually adjusts and begins to pick out shapes and forms—the ear can, after some time, begin to perceive a variety of different sounds.
The lyrics blend into the background. The English language martyrs itself to lend substance to the flow of the instrumentals—and what instrumentals!
Sounds that sneak past the intellectual front of the brain and prey upon the emotional core are evident, not eliciting an assortment of thoughts, but instead our rawest feelings. Listening to the album all the way through can produce a feeling of falling in love.
“Strangest Thing,” for example, is the type of song that covertly crosses the mental threshold to deal with an emotional payload with its oozing, flowing sound and melancholic vocals.
“Thinking of a Place” is another song that manages to bring both a sense of abstraction and poignancy, revealing how alien and human it can make you feel at once. Combining such sensations is an impressive feat to pull off.
“Clean Living” has a slightly off-putting, saccharine serenity that is intriguing. Though all three songs share a similar speed, they all deviate from each other in exciting ways that can keep the listener hooked.
A Deeper Understanding bears a similar, surreal feeling to the group’s older albums, like Lost in the Dream, but has also found a slower pace, better for introspection rather than revelry—a sort of pace that helps one relish every note and cryptic series of lyrics.
Maybe it’s the last bastion against an onslaught of new genres of music that people are not ready to turn toward, or maybe they are. Either way, The War on Drugs has created versatile work, good for walking aimlessly, studying or contemplating existence.
The album begins slightly slowly, but it builds layers of intrigue and eventually entrances listeners. A Deeper Understanding is perfect for any conceivable situation because it’s a damn good album.u