Where To Start With... The War On Drugs
Formed in Philadelphia in 2005 by lead vocalist / guitarist Adam Granduciel and former lead guitarist Kurt Vile, The War On Drugs have never been the most prolific band in terms of output, releasing only three full-length albums in the last 12 years. Vile departed shortly after touring the band's debut LP Wagonwheel Blues to focus on a solo career, leaving Granduciel and bassist David Hartley as the only constant presence in a line-up that would see several arrivals and departures over the next few years.
Despite the fluid nature of their membership, The War On Drugs had few problems building a sizeable following for their dreamy, psychedelic brand of Americana and their sophomore album Slave Ambient was released to widespread critical approval. Commercial success has been slower to come, but with the arrival of new drummer Patrick Berkery a year after the release of their follow-up album, the band's line-up finally seemed to settle and the rewards came with their third album Lost in the Dream, breaking into the Top 30 in the Billboard chart at home and earning them their first gold record over here in the UK (the single 'Red Eyes' has racked up over 48 million streams on Spotify).
That success landed them a two album deal with Atlantic Records and, three years on from Lost in the Dream, the band return with its follow-up this week.
A Deeper Understanding was announced in June following the release of two new singles – 'Thinking of a Place' and 'Holding On' – and the news of a tour in North America and Europe that will see them play 25 shows across the U.S. and Canada, as well as another 20 in Europe, including six UK shows in London, Manchester, Glasgow and Portsmouth.
Adam Granduciel remains the band's creative driving force as both chief songwriter and producer on their new album, which also includes the already-released tracks 'Pain', 'Strangest Thing' and 'Up All Night'. You can find the video for 'Holding On' below, beneath that we've picked out five key tracks from their career so far for those in need of a crash course...
'Arms Like Boulders'
First featured on The War In Drugs' debut EP Barrell of Batteries in 2008 (and subsequently included on their first album Wagonwheel Blues), 'Arms Like Boulders' set out the stall for their hazy, Dylan-esque sound in the early days and it remains a staple of their live set. You can find a live version of the song from the band's 2015 show at Austin City Limits below...
'A Needle In Your Eye'
Possibly the most highly-charged moment on the band's debut album Wagonwheel Blues, 'A Needle In Your Eye' sounds like a Phil Spector recording session that has gotten slightly out of hand, with a undercurrent of heavily distorted organs and distant harmonicas lending an unhinged carnival vibe to one of the more psychedelic moments on the LP.
A song featured on the band's 2010 EP Future Weather and recorded at a time when their membership was still very much in flux, but its probably the clearest indicator of the direction in which the band would eventually travel. It also ended up on second album Slave Ambient and is still one of their best songs.
'Under The Pressure'
The opening gambit from the band's third LP, 'Under The Pressure' announces a more refined and dreamy sound than on their earlier records, with echoes of Springsteen and Simple Minds added to Granducial's assured vocals and the band's sound evolving to include synthesizers where there were once Hammond organs and harmonicas.
Our final pick is another cut from the band's previous album Lost in the Dream and probably their most well-known song. 'Red Eyes' is perhaps the moment where everything the band has been building towards finally reaches its destination; the driving rhythms, the chiming acoustic guitars and the slightly 50s vibe to Granduciel's reverb-drenched vocals are a trademark combination on the band's third album and this song is one of its best moments.