Adam Granduciel’s work with The War on Drugs began earnestly as what would essentially be a Kurt Vile Collaboration. Their first record, 2008s Wagonwheel Blues blended the two’s, then more complimentary, styles together to make for some spacey guitar ambience, a sound that Granduciel brought to its natural endpoint on his next record, 2011s Slave Ambient. Those two records are vastly underrated, operating as a reference point for how quickly the band would progress and carving out a separate niche of interest within The War on Drugs’ fan base. But then Granduciel took the group in another direction, finding a way to bring his drawn-out, exploratory tendencies in line with a more classic rock/pop format. Along with his open-hearted lyrics and singing style, the band soon grew to become the primary torch bearers of heartland rock.
Unlike The Killers, whose pivot to heartland rock remained rooted in their arena tendencies, The War on Drugs side-stepped those clunky, revisionist tendencies. On Lost in The Dream and A Deeper Understanding the band hit their stride creating a sound unique to them and one that despite its influences, never existed before they had created it. The band’s new sound was not derivative, instead it pushed the genre and rock music in general farther than most any other band. As a way to justify how hyperbolic that sounds, it’s easy to expect The War on Drugs impact to supersede any other figure in “heartland rock”, even going back to the genre’s beginning, with the possible exclusion of Bruce Springsteen, but Granduciel isn’t done yet, he only just turned 40.
I Don’t Live Here Anymore is jubilant, a record that sounds like it’s celebrating its place in Granduciel’s life, even when it isn’t. Writing and recording took three years, and the result is rousing, combining the anthemic celebration of community and progress during a pandemic with some of Granduciel’s best ballads. Sonically the band presents its sound, with enough to bind it to the group’s earlier releases, while shoehorning enough synthesizers and dance beats in to discern itself. When history looks back, I Don’t Live Here Anymore may be seen as the end of a trilogy, the last entry in what may prove the group’s most popular albums.
The seeds have been sewn for Granduciel to expand the band’s sound, and even with all the similarities between this record and Lost In The Dream, the differences are telling, as varying instruments and pacing changes seep into their sound. I Don’t Live Here Anymore, pushes the groups sound as much as it can, while staying conceptually consistent and rewarding. While Granduciel remains at his peak songwriting and the band remains consistently original, its clear that’s not enough, this record sounds like its breaking itself open just so it can move forward, as urgent as Lost in The Dream felt.