Review: The War on Drugs Bliss Out, Go Big on 'A Deeper Understanding'

Our take on the latest from the Dylan-loving guitar romantics

The War on Drugs' fourth album is 'A Deeper Understanding.'

Philadelphia has always been known for lush music – from the richly orchestrated proto-disco Philly Sound to the kaleidoscopic psych scene that spawned the War on Drugs. Steadily widening the canvas since co-founder Kurt Vile's departure, leader Adam Granduciel achieves full-on sonic rapture with his band's latest LP, an abstract-expressionist mural of synth-pop and heartland rock colored by bruised optimism and some of his most generous, incandescent guitar ever.

Which is hardly to say the War on Drugs have become a boogie-till-you-puke jam band. Granduciel is still more about layered textures and tight-woven phrases than he is about noodling, and anxiety still lurks under heady aural comforts, laid out in his nasal, Dylanesque vocal tones. On "Up All Night," literal or metaphoric gunshots ghost the narrative, and hot-forged guitar lines push through confetti-cannon electronics. The restrained builds make even subtle peaks feel ecstatic, like the spine-tingling slide-guitar ascent midway through "Holding On," or the squirming feedback, played by Granduciel like a hooked trout, preceding his solo on "Strangest Thing." There and elsewhere, his leads burn magnesium-bright, the sound of a modern, low-key guitar hero who knows just when to lay back, and when to let rip.