100 Best Songs of the 2010s – #71: “Holding On” by The War on Drugs

The song at #71 on my list of 100 Best Songs of the 2010s is “Holding On” by Philadelphia-based alternative rock band The War on Drugs. They’re quite honestly one of the best bands making music today, and I love their lush melodic sound that’s a beautiful mash-up of alternative, heartland rock, neo psychedelia and Americana. The band was formed by Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile in 2005, but Vile left after the completion of their first album to pursue his solo career. The band has undergone quite a few changes in lineup over the years, and now consists of the aforementioned Granduciel on guitar and lead vocals, David Harley on bass, Jon Natchez on sax & keyboards, Anthony LaMarca on guitar & keyboards, Robbie Bennett and piano, keyboards and guitar, and Charlie Hall on drums & organ.

I became a fan of The War on Drugs in 2014 after hearing their spectacular song “Red Eyes.” So it was natural that I’d love their beautiful song “Holding On” from their magnificent, critically-acclaimed and Grammy-winning 2017 album A Deeper Understanding. Having six band members, including three guitarists, three keyboardists, one of whom also plays sax, a bassist and a drummer, gives their music a full, almost orchestral sound. The piano, guitars, xylophone and synths on “Holding On” are breathtaking, and I love the powerful driving rhythms. Granduciel’s sublime vocals bear a striking resemblance to Bob Dylan on this and some of their other songs.

The song lyrics speak to the passage of time and how it allows a different perspective about a life-changing relationship that ultimately failed. The singer ponders as to whether he left the relationship too soon, or was it possible he held onto it longer than he should have – something many of us have probably wrestled with in less than happy relationships.

Ain’t no way I’m gonna last
Hiding in the seams, I can’t move the past
Feel like I’m about to crash
Riding the same line, I keep keeping on

And he never gonna change
He never gonna learn
I keep moving on the path, yeah
Holding on to mine

When you talk about the past
What are we talking of?
Did I let go too fast?
Was I holding on too long?

Here’s the official video for the song, featuring Granduciel and Frankie Faison:

And here’s a live performance without a visual storyline, which I almost prefer: