An achievement from a group, who, despite their lyrical yearning to understand the self, have unequivocally found themselves as band…
Philadelphia outfit, The War on Drugs, is a band you put on at winding-down parties, or barbeques, or in the office, and you notice something: it makes people stop whatever they’re doing and ask, ‘Who is this?’
Since 2005, when Kurt Vile was an early member, the band has been honing a sound that stirs something within: pulsing, ambient, introspective rock, with warm, layered riffs and synths. Or, as one drunken friend proclaimed to us all in his kitchen at four in the morning: ‘This is just good music.’
The band’s 2014 album, Lost in a Dream, earned accolades across the critical spectrum, from musos to old-school rockers who think The Boss is still the boss. Frontman, Adam Granduciel, leads with a voice that rasps like Springsteen and croons like Bob Dylan – but this isn’t cheap mimicry. Granduciel is a musical force unto himself – the mastermind behind the multi-instrument production on every painstakingly complex track.
New album, A Deeper Understanding, is the first to be penned in the band’s new home, Los Angeles, and whilst the soul searching themes are still present, L.A.’s ‘more is more’ attitude may have influenced an evolution – not reinvention, but more layers, more instruments and longer track-times. There are no stadium-pleasing anthems, but this is an album full of moments that could fill any space, on any scale.
Highlights include, “Thinking of a Place”, a sprawling, ten minute intermission that takes you on a journey you don’t want to end, like a languid, window-seated train ride, where you find yourself hoping for just one more stop, as the unceasing drums drive things forward, like the thump of metallic wheels over railroad sleepers. It’s a track that matches the ambition of their previous album’s high point: the powerful and affecting, “An Ocean Between the Waves”.
“Pain” showcases The War on Drugs at their angst-propelled best, delivering introspective lyrics that set the scene for the rest of the work: I’m here all alone, just begging… give me a deeper understanding of who I am. Yet, the piece is not downbeat; it’s hopeful, determined, and heeds the transience of suffering, building to a soaring, uplifting crescendo.
“Nothing to Find” is the album’s double espresso shot, dissecting the middle of the record: an awakening from the radiant, dream-like tracks that surround it, with energetic, unabating drums that imbue positivity and rejuvenation.
The album is an achievement from a group, who, despite their lyrical yearning to understand the self, have unequivocally found themselves as band, and are comfortable in giving the people what they want – more. There is, however, a risk that the new material could be labelled as ‘samey’. Subtle evolutions are evident in their work, but a selection from Slave Ambient, their 2011 album, could arguably hide unnoticed amongst the track list of A Deeper Understanding. But, then, why must we obsess about reinvention? Leave that to the pop-stars and Kings of Leon. Change isn’t always for the best, especially when you’ve found something so… good.
With an increasingly impressive oeuvre, it’s likely The War on Drugs will begin to reverberate in circles beyond those who, since Lost in a Dream, have quietly coveted them as the best rock band at work today. This is no bad thing. All good music demands the foreground eventually – but, The War on Drugs demand something deeper than that too. That’s who they are.
Have you ever set your watch five minutes fast to stop you from being late? Yea, me too. But the problem is, you know it’s five minutes fast, so you end up just subtracting five minutes every time you look at your watch. It doesn’t work. What you really need, is for someone else to set your watch a few minutes fast without you being aware of it. That’ll work — for a while at least. But, if you aren’t aware that someone’s adjusted your watch, does that mean your time’s been stolen? Have you just lost five, ten minutes of life? And if time can be stolen, just how much can be taken from us?
There are 168 hours in a week. But how many of those hours are actually yours to live? You know, to do the things you keep saying you want to do more of: cycling, sewing, knitting, rowing — all those things ending with, ‘-ing’.
In a typical working week, doing an eight-hour shift, you’re losing 40 hours a week. And we’ve got to work, right? Time is money, after all. We need that stuff to help with the living part. And if we sleep eight hours a night (as we should), that’s 56 hours per week in the land of nod. That leaves 72 ‘free’ hours per week.
But then, let’s factor in your commute to work, all that housework you need to do, the kids that need chauffeuring, the shed that needs varnishing. Plus grooming, washing, and personal hygiene-ing. What are you left with? Maybe 50, 60 hours?
How are we treating those hours? Are they our most prized possession? Do we measure each minute out, like we’re dealing in precious stones? Ofcourse we don’t. We leave our time hanging out our back pockets, in unclasped bags, in unlocked rooms, letting pick-pockets and time-thieves take what they want.
Television steals hours from us. The average Briton watches 24 hours of TV per week (that adds up to about a decade over the course of a lifetime). TV companies sell this time of yours to advertisers, who compete to impress us with their elaborate pitches. Then we spend another few hours in shops or online, buying all of the things we never knew we needed.
Is watching TV ‘living’? It’s a choice, I suppose. And one I make regularly too — I’m not immune to TV’s powerful story-telling, and, in weaker times, junk-food for the eyes. But, 24 hours a week? Wow.
And then we have social media. In the UK, the average person spends 11 hours a week on Facebook et al. Some people would never give this up. It is their lives now. I can’t judge (please retweet this).
Have you been keeping up with the maths? For argument’s sake, let’s look at the worst-case scenario…
Let’s just assume your time spent doing chores and sat in front of screens isn’t what you value most in life. Let’s pretend, that stuff won’t be part of the highlights reel when you look back on how you spent your days on Earth. How many hours are we left with to do what we really want to do, to see the people we really like, to be the person we want to be?
I work it out to be around 20 hours a week*. Or, 2hrs 42 minutes a day. That’s the exact run-time of The Godfather: Part III — a film that won’t be making my highlights reel.
This is the paragraph where I consolidate my very obvious point and preach about how time is precious and all the guff you’ve heard before – words that are so easy to ignore when you’re watching Ex on the Beach. I’m not going to do that. I’d be a hypocrite if I tried. But, I will save you some time if you haven’t seen The Godfather: Part III. This line pretty much sums up the whole film:
“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.”
I don’t usually write film reviews. Let me prove this by giving my verdict on Guardians of The Galaxy: Vol 2 immediately, rather than keeping you on tenterhooks until the final paragraph: it’s not as good as the first one (which is excellent). You probably knew that already. However… there is a ‘but’.
Vol. 2 doesn’t feel as fresh as the original, for the simple fact that the first film now exists — it’s impossible to surprise an audience with the same trick twice. Vol. 2 is still a fantastically quirky, self-deprecating, and at times, hilarious film, which borders on Spaceballs-esque sci-fi spoof. However, there were periods when the film faltered and I became restless for more gags, which, when they came, didn’t always hit the mark. I found it impossible to care about the story of the sisters and their scenes were undoubtedly the weakest in the film, often weighed down by the green one’s reluctance to display emotion and the robot one’s choice of just two: icy menace or theatrical anger.
The centrepiece of the movie is an ambitious, Freudian story, pitting step-dad against real-dad on a hyperbolic scale. This is delicate material, which has genuine sentiment for millions who are anchored by the ‘step’ prefix. This theme may have been suffocated by the CGI E-numbers and one-liners had the writers not provided some pantomime clues that this is supposed to be a more meaningful blockbuster. There is a moment when, unrelated to the patriarchal plot, a goon screams “It’s a metaphor!” in a tongue-in-cheek wink to the audience: this film has metaphors, and we’re not afraid to use them. And if that wasn’t clear enough, they went and named Quinn’s father ‘Ego’.
Where the first film poked fun at the absurdity of saving the Universe — and in doing so, inadvertently exposed just how one-dimensional The Avengers films are — the second film has a more serious undercurrent: it deals with real-life shit; the overlapping, crisscrossing family dynamics of modern life. The portrait of a ‘normal’ family is now so rare, the very idea seems fantastical or even obsolete – especially on screen.
Vol. 2 is a story about (spoiler alert?) a son putting their absent biological father on a pedestal so high, that no paternal stand-in could ever hope to compete. This familiar dynamic is taken to the ultimate extreme: Quinn’s long-lost Dad is a planet-building god (with a small ‘g’). How can Quinn’s surrogate father, an aging, blue-man-group outcast, compete with an intergalactic deity? Especially when it appears that he kidnapped the ‘Star Lord’ as a young boy for his own Fagan-esque gain.
This is affecting material, which feels heavy and important against a here-we-go-again, end-of-the-universe backdrop. And it’s the weight of these familial themes which highlight the film’s major flaw. I just didn’t care that the universe might end – do we ever in these Marvel films? We know it’s never going to end. The main characters are never going to die. It all feels so predictable… until, a surprise which shows real bravery from the writers. And by the end, after the emotive jostling and blurry CGI punch-ups (an abhorrent problem across all these superhero films), the film climaxes with a genuine tug at the throat: as souped-up fireworks flower across the screen, it’s the iconic words of Cat Stevens’ Father and Son that yield the most powerful special-effect. The heart of this film was there all along. “It’s a metaphor!”
Vol. 2 is not as well-rounded a film as the first, but I have to admire its ambition – flawed ambition, yes – but I’d take flawed ambition over a safe bet every time. Take note, The Last Jedi.
I awoke with renewed clarity, owing to a rare Saturday-night free from binge-drinking. Eight hours of undisturbed sleep had ordained me with new abilities and confidence. I was ready to tackle a task which had previously seemed impossible.
I padded out of the bedroom, being careful not to wake Nicola, and opened the cupboard under the stairs. Inside, the route to my target was blocked by a thicket of mop handles, hoover shafts and ironing boards. On another day, this would have sent me retreating back to my warm bed. But not today. I parted the Forrest of Domesticity and launched an arm towards the shadowy whereabouts of the neglected object. I had it. I pulled sharply, bringing the surrounding brooms and buckets careering out of the cupboard. My bare feet took some blows, but I was not deterred. The tool-box was out.
My ‘tool-box’ was actually just a plastic storage container that had been reassigned to house ad-hoc instruments I had collected over the years. Rather than being stored in neat compartments, as with a traditional tool-box, the items formed organic layers, like a sedimentary cross-section in a geography textbook. At the top were larger, bulkier items, such as a power drill which had been passed on to me by a friend who had mistaken me for a ‘real man’, and an electric screwdriver whose maiden voyage could yet prove to be its last. Underneath this solid outer crust you will find a hammer, wrench, miniature saw and Stanley knife, untidily arranged like torturer’s bedside table. At the bottom of these layers, the smaller items rattled around — nails, screws, nuts and bolts of all varieties, never to be touched again by human hands. It was too dangerous to try and save them. If I ever required the use of these items in the future, I would need to buy new ones and then empty the surplus into the tool-box, letting them slip through the porous cracks to find their resting place amongst their long-lost brothers.
Like a surgeon intent on not slicing his own hands and livelihood, I removed the instruments I needed with great care. In this case: some miniaturised screwdrivers which specialised in ‘precision’, for this was a job which required a deft touch. I rustled into a plastic Wilko’s bag for the subject of this delicate procedure: a ‘dimmer switch’.
The recently updated lighting in the kitchen was powerful enough to illuminate the pitch at Wembley Stadium on a dark January night. Filth and muck stood out like acne under the unforgiving LED spotlights and should a guest enter the room and switch on the beams unsuspectingly, we could well be liable for irreversible retina damage. Worst of all, the fearsome light made everyone look revolting and our friendships would likely suffer as a consequence. Something had to be done.
I glanced over the dimmer’s instructions as a courtesy — someone had gone to the trouble of putting the thing together — and began unscrewing the current switch (merely capable of ‘on’ and ‘off’ functions). I decided to turn off the power at the mains. This seemed a sensible reaction to the revelation of the nest of wires behind the switch’s casing, one of which was red and looked angry at being exposed to the world without warning.
I had assumed this would be an operation akin to removing and inserting a Game Boy cartridge, but with the discovery of the wires, a more challenging puzzle had presented itself. However, my confidence had not waned and I felt reassured by a faint memory of an episode of The Crystal Maze, where the contestant had to connect an over-sized battery to an oversized-door bell. I could not recall if they were successful in obtaining the crystal.
I ploughed on, reassured by the safety precautions I had now put in place.
It was time to perform the keyhole surgery required to remove the minuscule screws from the back of the dimmer switch. I shed the packaging from the precision screwdrivers and using nothing but my naked eye, selected the tool for the job. On realising it was too large for the job, I picked another tool with a slightly smaller head.
I engaged the screw and felt some resistance. I began to turn the corrugated metal grip of the screwdriver.
‘What’s all that swearing about?’ Something had stirred Nicola from her Sunday lie-in. Some of us had things to do around here, you know?
I used all the force I could muster, but there was no give. I went to the fridge for a hit of orange juice to lift my spirit so I could tackle it again.
I hardened my grip around the narrow neck of the screwdirver, digging the grooved grip deep into the pad of my thumb. I pushed the instrument into the screw head and turned with all the power that Florida oranges instilled in me.
This was simply a hurdle I could not overcome. The tip of my thumb had blistered into a plasma dome the size of an M&M (normal variety, not peanut).
I gathered the tools, packaging and light-switch confectionary and dumped it all back into the tool-box, letting nature organise them into the correct layers.
Dejected, I climbed back into bed and inspected my throbbing thumb. I poked and pinched it. The thick skin showed no signs of rupture, so I continued to prod and twist. It was a satisfying distraction from my reaffirmed failings as a handyman.
An epiphany: Had I been turning the screw the wrong way?
The blister broke, spotting the duvet in an impressive amount serum. I turned over and went to back sleep.
With the demise of free plastic bags, a new menace has taken its place; bags for life. However, whereas plastic bags merely polluted the earth, bags for life have given rise to a more severe issue; the pollution of our homes.
Nancy, from Isleworth told us, “Look, I’m all for protecting the planet and that, but we’ve just replaced one problem with a much worse problem. Every time I open the cupboard under the sink, a flock of bags lunge out, covering the kitchen in hemp. Ever taken a hemp bag in the face? It’s shit.”
Billy, a resident of Guildford, said, “I enjoyed tutting and shaking my head at the old plastic bag problem, safe in the knowledge it will never really be my problem. But now I’m fucking drowning in bags for life. The dolphins are fine, but I’m fucking drowning. Where’s the logic there?”
News broke this week that the ‘bag for life’ population in your cupboard has increased by 85% since you started reading this sentence.
The Glastonbury forecast is in and the outlook is muddy, to the delight of thousands who were unable to secure tickets and scores more who didn’t even try.
George, an elated non-reveller told us, “I went to Glastonbury once and it rained. Everyone pretended it was OK, but it wasn’t. Booze and ketamine helped, but I can do that at home, thanks very much.”
Jane, owner of eight cats, has never been to Glastonbury and has no intention of ever going. “Nothing makes me happier than a wet Glastonbury. I watch all the coverage on television, but only to see the mud-caked crack-heads dressed in fluorescent bin bags swaying in misery to a band I’ve never heard of.”
We spoke to one unlucky ticket holder, ‘Fred’, on his way to the site. “I really don’t care if it’s raining, mate. I grant myself these five days a year to ingest a range of illicit powders and I’m not going to let fucking drizzle get in the way of that.’