Music

Getting into… The War On Drugs

Ahead of their Living Proof Global Live Event, we offer some essential listening to deep dive into The War On Drugs' rich catalogue. If you're just getting into the band, this is a good place to start...

The War On Drugs seem to be a stubborn force who with every album only get closer to the expansive and total concept of rock music that in recent years has seemed a distant and romantic notion lost in time. In October 2021, Adam Granduciel and his band released their fifth studio album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore, which will surely decorate every album of the year list and push them onto bigger stages in 2022.

To celebrate the release of the record, on Thursday 9 December the Philadelphia band will be premiering Living Proof: The War On Drugs Global Live Event, a live streamed show named after the album’s opening track and filmed at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The War On Drugs have also partnered with PLUS1 so that £1 from each ticket goes to support She’s the First, who team up with women-led, grassroots organisations to make sure girls globally are educated, respected, and heard. 

Ahead of the stream and their return to the UK in April 2022, we’ve put together a collection of essential listening as a helpful entry point to those who might want, ahem, A Deeper Understanding into the band’s rich catalogue.

The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

‘Buenos Aires Beach’

The band’s 2008 debut LP Wagonwheel Blues, is an important starting point, not just because it marks the beginning of The War On Drugs’ journey, but because it’s a reminder how far the band’s sound has built and developed over time. Though laced with heady Americana – I mean, just look at the album’s name – and enough carefree energy that critics already began anticipating the band’s road trip aesthetic, their first few albums are a far cry from the polished, studio rock of recent years. The debut, written alongside founding member Kurt Vile, had a gritty, lo-fi production and was drenched in a dreamy, almost shoegaze atmosphere. ‘Buenos Aires Beach’ sits at the record’s midpoint, and with its opening acoustic guitar line acts as a palate cleanser from the enveloping synths. But perhaps no one on first listen quite expects the earworm that develops as Granduciel echoes Vile’s guitar hook with singalong ‘uh uh oh’s. It’s still a staple in their longer sets, and a more decorated version of the track even made the cut on their 2020 live album LIVE DRUGS.

‘Baby Missiles’

With its swing-like shuffle and almost gaelic organ-sounding keys, ‘Baby Missiles’ from 2010’s Future Weather could have easily ended up sounding like a different song entirely. But it turned out to be one of the first ripples of the unbridled kinetic force the band are now known for, with its shimmy-and-shake nervous energy and explosive harmonica outbursts. It’s also a moment where Granduciel begins finding his voice, which on Wagonwheel Blues, though still powerful, is a little more sporadic and less refined. Though he sings quickly to catch up with the fast jive, you can begin to discern that characteristic Dylan-esque lilt coming through.

‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’

Full disclosure, it’s near impossible to separate the band’s career-defining 2014 record Lost In The Dream from its big hitters ‘Under The Pressure’ and ‘Red Eyes’. But ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ acts a moodier and more suspenseful counterpart to those breezy epics that is still just as towering in scale, if not more so from the way it builds dramatically from its muted motorik beat into melting guitar solos that make you wince. Though at seven minutes the track reveals Granduciel and co.’s songwriting beginning to swell beyond the confines of a traditional song length, at some point time begins to warp and it feels as though it could go on forever, the listener lost wisting and wincing away, save only for its sudden halt. Drawn out solos and driving drumbeats aside, ‘An Ocean In Between The Waves’ is quintessential War On Drugs from the way it pits melancholy and resolve against each other, two forces pushing ever closer to a collision that never comes.

‘Thinking of a Place’

On the topic of lengthy runtimes, none quite come close to the 11-minute gentle giant ‘Thinking of a Place’. The track was first released as part of Record Store Day 2017, before featuring on A Deeper Understanding later that year. The LP was their first on Atlantic Records, and though the richness and depth of its production is miles ahead of their debut, the gleaming Wurlitzers that give this track its hypnotic glare hark back in HD to its ambient backdrop. Though a lot of Granduciel’s lyrics focus forward with a sense of movement and direction, the opening lines here – “Light was changing on the water / Where birds above had flown” – seem to catch him in a daze as reflective as the subject before him.

‘Pain’

It’s no secret The War On Drugs look up to the likes of Springsteen or Dire Straits, but the twinkly guitars and mid-tempo rock beat of ‘Pain’ certainly have a halcyon air of Fleetwood Mac about them. It’s interesting then, given their propensity for propelling heartland rock that the track would be a vessel for the title of the album it featured on: “Pull me close and let me hold you in / Give me a deeper understanding of who I am”. Though Granduciel might be the only figure on the record sleeve, with its subtle drum fills and the way the guitar passages play off each other towards the tail end of the track, ‘Pain’ beautifully captures The War On Drugs working closer together as a band.

‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’

OK, maybe just one title track. Though the band decided to tease their 2021 album with its opener, the slow-burning ‘Living Proof’, its follow up ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ reassured fans of their stadium-filling credentials. Not only is brought to life by those 80s synths, arpeggiated guitar line and guest vocals from Lucius, but it also features some of Granduciel’s sharpest writing, with lines such as “Is life just dying in slow motion / Or getting stronger everyday?” especially hitting home in 2021.

Living Proof: The War On Drugs Global Live Event kicks off at 8pm GMT, tickets are available here.

Tickets for The War on Drugs’ April 2022 UK tour are available here.