Review : The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient
PitchforkSlidin'. Ramblin'. Driftin'. Movin'. Strugglin'. The War on Drugs frontman Adam Granduciel is all of these things on Slave Ambient, the Philly outfit's second full-length release. Given these professed feelings of restlessness and uneasiness, it's no surprise the band's hypno-roots-rock is all about forward motion and momentum, favoring steady, locomotive rhythms that rarely pause or waver-- elements that reinforce Granduciel's efforts to make his problems disappear in the rearview mirror.
Slave Ambient shares several qualities with its 2008 predecessor, Wagonwheel Blues: a sense of open-freeway abandon and splendid isolation set against a glorious expanse; an unabashed admiration for FM-radio Americana icons of yore (Springsteen, Dylan, Petty); and a willingness to buff the band's gritty edges with serene, if randomly deployed, instrumentals and reprises. In other words, the War on Drugs still deal in "excellent road trip music," as Pitchfork's Stephen Deusner described Wagonwheel Blues. However, this time Granduciel is less interested in documenting the environmental and economic travesties he sees unfolding outside his window as he is the internal dramas swirling around in his head. Nearly every song here expresses some desire to get outta town and start anew.
The band responds by amplifying the more textural qualities of their sound: dreamy synth drones, liquefied electric-guitar leads that linger and fade like raindrops rolling down the windshield, and the most tasteful use of smooth saxophone this side of Kaputt. (Interestingly enough, Slave Ambient was recorded without founding member Kurt Vile, who applies a similarly lysergic approach on his latest solo release, Smoke Rings For My Halo-- for fans of rustic rock'n'roll, the two albums collectively yield an embarrassment of riches not experienced since Wilco and Son Volt released A.M. and Trace in tandem.) When the band's wide-screened psychedelic flourishes are fused with Granduciel's well-worn Dylan- and Petty-isms, songs like "Brothers" and "It's Your Destiny" wondrously conjure nothing so much as the Traveling Wilburys recording for mid-1980s 4AD. Or in the case of the excitable "Baby Missiles" (a holdover from last year's stop-gap Future Weather EP), it's as if the Spiritualized and Springsteen albums filed alphabetically next to one another in your record collection had melted together on a hot August afternoon....full text
GuardianThe War on Drugs are, mostly, the divinely named Adam Granduciel, a long-haired Philadelphian with a knack for bringing together notionally disparate rock realms. He sounds like Bob Dylan or Tom Petty when he sings – laconic, nasal, matter of fact – but his songs thrum and drone and hum like, well, loose ambient rock. "Your Love is Calling My Name" is a propulsive krautrock groover and one of the highlights of the War on Drugs's second album proper. Even better, though, is the heady, reverberating trip of "Come to the City", a proper heartland rock anthem whose fist is twitching skywards....full text
PopmattersAfter four years of planning and recording, Philadelphia’s the War on Drugs has released a follow-up to its 2008 debut Wagonwheel Blues. Since the first album, Kurt Vile has departed the band to pursue his own music to great success with his two Matador albums. The man behind the War on Drugs, Vile’s good friend and touring companion, Adam Granduciel pursues a similar vein of American rock, fueled by obvious Dylan and Springsteen love, then rounded out with German and British influences, motorik and shoegaze. While Vile and Granduciel are obviously part of the same musical family, one hopes there is no professional jealousy between the two, since both are making something that sounds simultaneously familiar and fresh. The War on Drugs has come back strong with an album that complements the quirkiness of Kurt Vile’s latest with its own panoramic wisdom.
Slave Ambient takes the rambling road trip Americana sound of the first album and rounds it out with a bigger, more sophisticated sound. This direction was first apparent on last year’s (long) EP, Future Weather, which has earlier versions of two songs from Slave Ambient, including the single “Baby Missiles”. The reworking of “Brothers” from the EP to LP is emblematic of the shift in sound Granduciel has made. The earlier “Brothers” is a downbeat folky rambler; the album version is a bright jangle-pop road song. Granduciel’s impression of Dylan and his nasal drawl soars with the music in a more complex way than rehashing the stereotype of the mumbling folksinger and his guitar. In the titles of the two albums, from Wagonwheel Blues to Slave Ambient, we can get a clear sense of the War on Drugs’ aesthetic, which has finally come into its own. Granduciel mixes roots and electronics. Each song takes a single melodic line that one could imagine Granduciel playing alone with a guitar, and then builds it out, not with more complex composition, but sophisticated layering of sound.
Another way to explain what Granduiciel is up to is by comparing him with another obvious inspiration: the Boss. Many of the tracks sound like scraps of Bruce songs, from the standout mumbly ballad, “I Was There”, to a pair of “Dancing in the Dark”-inspired tracks, “Your Love Is Calling” and “Baby Missiles” (another track reworked from the EP, though in this instance minimally so). Springsteen inflated folk-rock to operatic arena-sized proportions, but the War on Drugs makes it big otherwise. Rather than dramatic arcs, Granduciel’s songs have a repetitive droning structure, moving back and forth from verse to chorus, without bridges or stories, to make non-monumental classic rock. But what the songs lack in dynamics is supplied by texture: the songs are really thick....full text
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