The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient

There is this music site out there that thinks they are the authority on all things music.  If you think you know something about music, they will assure you that they know more.  That is why I’m never really all that excited when we actually agree on an album.  Perhaps I won’t say it quite as eloquently, but I know a good band when I hear them.  Sadly, I will admit that this site is a major source of my own musical knowledge.  With 5 reviews everyday, I check there to see what I like and don’t like, and thanks to my new spotify membership, I am able to check and see if I agree almost instantly. There are quite a few albums that are given a huge thumbs up that I just don’t agree with, but with this album, I can’t help but agree.

This is the second album put out by The War on Drugs hailing from Philadelphia; however, it is by no means the same band.  The first album, “Wagonwheel Blues”, had a quartet of musicians.  Included in this quartet was Kurt Vile; the man whose solo album, “Smoke Ring for my Halo”, has received some very high reviews this year.  The band has almost completely changed their line-up for this new album.  Gone are Vile and two of the previous members.  Joining Adam Granducie, the only remaining original member, are Dave Hartley and Mike Zanghi.  Down one member, the group put together a timeless piece of Americana music.

The sound that War on Drugs creates is well described by how they titled this particular album.  “Slave Ambient” would indicate that these guys are slaves to ambiance, and that is essentially what they create.  There are multiple songs on the album that have no singing at all.  However, they don’t use these as an opportunity to show case their musical capabilities.  Instead, they create ambient music that segways you from one song into the next.  It can be very soothing and relaxing if you’re in that mood.  There are of course times where you just want to be able to sing along, and then these songs get slightly annoying.  I always have to skip these if I’m in the car.

As I said earlier, these fellas have a very Americana sound to their music.  I think it is most obvious in the way in which they almost seem to mimic different classic American artists.  One of their biggest influences has to be Bob Dylan.  Although his voice isn’t quite as twangy, Adam Granducie, definitely has that type of sound to his voice in most songs.  Perhaps you might be able to describe it slightly more as a Bob Dylan meets Tom Petty sound.  Either way, he definitely embodies that sort of classic American sound.

The music never really stands out to me too much.  It is good, but there is nothing that really grabs my attention.  I once again enjoy how they use it to almost recreate the styles of classic artists.  “Baby Missiles” could easily be placed on a Bruce Springsteen records.  It is definitely the most upbeat song on the album, and it has a very choppy character to it.  There may be no sweet sax solo in there at all, but there is a little solo by a harmonica.  Even Granducie manages to embody “The Boss”  by how sings and delivers his lines.  He almost knows he doesn’t sound very much like Bruce, but he really really wants to.

There are a few interesting places where it seems like they delve slightly away from the Americana aspect in their music.  “Your Love is Calling my Name” actually sounds like The Cure made a song and had a guest vocalist sing on it.  Although the vocals still come across like a Bob Dylan and Tom Petty mix, the music has an electronic 80’s feel.  “Come to the City”  actually has a very U2 feel to it.  This is both due to the music and vocal combination.  The music builds into the vocals.  I think the key link in the vocals to U2 lies both in how he holds the syllables of the words, but also, how he does a little yell howl in the middle of it.  It has a very “Where the Streets have No Name” quality to it.

Overall I really enjoy The War on Drugs have put out here.  They did a great job creating an album that allows people to connect to some of the greats in American music.  They definitely keep their own identity thoughout, but it just doesn’t seem like people make too much music like this anymore. I suppose there is always Wilco. Sure, you have those old bands coming out with new things every once in a while; however, these guys are fresh and doing the older style justice.  Give them a chance.

Teacher Grade: B


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