The War on Drugs

I Don't Live Here Anymore

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I Don't Live Here Anymore Review

by Fred Thomas

With their meticulously crafted and infinitely layered 2017 album A Deeper Understanding, the War on Drugs added new levels of atmosphere and detail to their '80s blue collar rock-inspired sound. Centered around the songwriting and vision of bandleader Adam Granduciel, the War on Drugs had looked to roots rock heroes like Dylan, Springsteen, Petty, and the like from the time they started, but A Deeper Understanding married the band's ever-present echoes of Reagan-era FM radio hits with an almost overwhelmingly dense approach to arrangement, with Granduciel stacking the songs with tightly organized sounds that gave the entire album a sense of magnitude and precision. Fifth album I Don't Live Here Anymore takes a different path, sounding looser and less-toiled over without losing any of the detail that keeps Granduciel's songs from being mere re-creations of '80s best-sellers from the rock section of the Columbia House records club. The album opens with one of its best songs, and also one of its gentlest, "Living Proof." Distant acoustic guitar strums, soft piano chords, and Granduciel's plainly delivered Dylan-esque vocals slowly open up into an arrangement that adds organ, steady bass, and atmospheric percussion. The song never builds but instead offers a restrained overture for an album that blasts off from that point forward. Rockers like "Harmonia's Dream," "Change," and "Wasted" bounce along excitedly, pairing bright synth lines with upbeat tempos, almost Krautrock-like rhythm section pulses, and occasional dashes of piano reminiscent of Don Henley, adding touches of cinematic melancholy to balance out the songs' uplifting melodic qualities. The title track is anthemic in the same way, upping the ante on all of the band's usual reference points by leaning into huge drum fills saturated with gated reverb (the classic '80s sound) and several blatant lyrical references to Bob Dylan. The choruses soar with guest backup vocals from Lucius, perfecting the song's lonely, searching vibe while it replicates the same wistful feel of a Springsteen video set at a county fair in 1986. Only occasionally does the album retreat into the moodiness that was prevalent throughout A Deeper Understanding, but there are some thoughtful, slower songs like "Old Skin," and the plodding, mysterious "I Don't Wanna Wait" begins with Talk Talk-style atmospheres and an ominous drum machine borrowed directly from Phil Collins' ubiquitous "In the Air Tonight." I Don't Live Here Anymore is a warmer, friendlier reading of the sound that could feel impenetrable on the War on Drugs' last album. On top of the more accessible production, this record also boasts some of Granduciel's most immediate songs, making it some of the best work from a band with a near-spotless track record.

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