CD Review: The War on Drugs — Slave Ambient; Playing The Red Palace, September 2 and The EARL, October 13

The War on Drugs
Slave Ambient
Secretly Canadian

By Al Kaufman

Much like Beck is essentially a folk rocker with ambient tendencies, so too are Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs.

The band’s 2008 debut, Wagonwheel Blues, was more of a straight ahead rock and roots affair. Then Kurt Vile left the group for his rather promising solo career and Adam Granduciel became the heart and soul of the now trio.

Slave Ambient plays like a classic rock band that listened to a lot of Aphex Twin while on heroin. “Best Night” recalls a dreary, atmospheric Bob Dylan. “I Was There” sounds like Neil Young at his hippiest, right down to the harmonica solo at the end. And “Your Love Is Calling My Name” has a certain Jackson Browne quality to it. But everything plays like it is being viewed through a rain soaked window. All is gauzy and slightly sleepy.

Things become a bit more modern with “Come to the City,” which sounds like a fully-embellished Peter Gabriel, but the CD really takes flight during the final quarter, when the electronica gets turned up a notch. The instrumental “City Reprise #12” prepares the listener for the sonic punch of “Baby Missiles.” It is as rich as it is fast and furious.

Granduciel brings it all full circle with “Black Water Falls,” in which, in full angry, nasally glory, he sounds like the bastard child of Dylan and Conor Oberst. After the electric onslaught, it is a great reminder that what still matters most is the song.

The War on Drugs play the Red Palace in Washington, D.C. with Caveman and Paperhaus on September 2…

…and The EARL in Atlanta, Ga. on October 13.

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