Mixing the grand-scale guitar attack of Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine with a melodic sense and lyrical perspective that recall Bob Dylan roaring down Highway 61, Philadelphia's the War on Drugs are the creation of a pair of Dylan fans, Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile, who met at a party in 2003. After several drinks, Granduciel and Vile discovered their shared fascination with the Bard of Minnesota, and began working on songs together. By 2005, the pair had enough material to launch a proper band, and the War on Drugs were born.
With Granduciel and Vile fronting the band, a variety of accompanists drifted in and out of the lineup before the War on Drugs settled on a stable lineup of Granduciel on vocals, guitar, and keyboards; Vile on guitar and vocals; Charlie Hall on organ and drums; Dave Hartley on bass, and Kyle Lloyd on drums and percussion. While the War on Drugs were hesitant to quit their jobs and begin touring extensively, the band became a frequent presence on the Philadelphia music scene and impressed out-of-towners during occasional gigs in New York City. In 2007, the band completed its debut EP, a five-song set called Barrel of Batteries, posted online as a free download. Positive press for both the EP and the group's powerful live shows caught the attention of the noted independent label Secretly Canadian, which signed the band, releasing its first full-length album, Wagonwheel Blues, in June 2008. However, by the end of that year, Vile, Hall, and Lloyd all departed the group, with Vile making a name for himself as a solo artist soon after.
After the mass exodus, drummer Mike Zanghi joined Granduciel and Hartley, and that trio lineup made its recorded debut with 2010's mini-album Future Weather. That same year, Hartley released the first album from his solo project, Nightlands. Multi-instrumentalist Robbie Bennett then joined the War on Drugs for 2011's Slave Ambient, their second proper album, which gained the band significant critical acclaim. While touring Slave Ambient, Granduciel set about writing and recording their third LP. Taking nearly two years to complete, Lost in the Dream saw release on Secretly Canadian in early 2014. It debuted within the American Top 40, and earned them more rave reviews. They spent much of the next two years making multiple passes through the U.S., Canada, and Europe on tour, then set to work on another album. The band re-emerged in April 2017 with the 11-minute single "Thinking of a Place," released in conjunction with Record Store Day. The track would later appear on their fourth album, A Deeper Understanding, which saw release later the same year, marking their first album on Atlantic Records; Shawn Everett (Alabama Shakes, Weezer) provided the final mix.