The War on Drugs' debut for Atlantic Records, A Deeper Understanding, is very much a follow-up to the group's critically acclaimed Top 30 breakthrough Lost in the Dream from three years prior. That album's notoriously meticulous blend of heartland rock influences, Bob Dylan, and a swirling dream rock constructed of Wurlitzers, tape effects, analog synths, and 12-string guitar, just to name a few components, is, if anything, even more expansive here. The Drugs recorded it as a six-piece with frontman/songwriter Adam Granduciel, bassist Dave Hartley, who's been in the picture since the band’s debut, keyboardist Robbie Bennett, drummer Charlie Hall, and multi-instrumentalists Jon Natchez and Anthony LaMarca, all but the latter of whom contributed to Lost in the Dream. There's no compromising to be found on their major-label debut, the first of a two-record deal that promises complete creative control to Granduciel. (To underscore that point, the first track released from A Deeper Understanding was the over-11-minute "Thinking of a Place.") The set's ten tracks drift unhurriedly over a course of more than an hour. Included along the way are a few additional timbres, such as the skittering electronic effects and stucco guitar textures of opener "Up All Night," the unexpected glint of glockenspiel on the bass-propelled tune "Holding On," and the saxophone on "Clean Living" with its sound distorted like a reflection. At first, these details hint at a possible redesign -- then just as quickly they don’t, as ears adjust to the broader palette. They weave their way into the hazy reverb, restrained pitch range, and shimmering, engulfing atmosphere that manages to never overpower Granduciel's gentle ruminations on relationships, overcoming, and just coping. Though there's nothing here to grab headlines, A Deeper Understanding reclaims and explores the distinctive soundscapes, vastness, and haunted psyche of Lost in the Dream, and that in itself is significant.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson