[sic] Magazine

War On Drugs – Slave Ambient

There is a saying “that a beast with two heads is a monster”. In the case of the scintillating Philadelphia rock outfit the War on Drugs (WOD) the two heads in questions are Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel who have determined to plough separate furrows but retain a very tight musical bond (Vile plays on a couple of tracks here) .

Many of you will have already noted that Vile has recently produced a very fine record in the form of Smoke Rings For My Halo , sardine-packed with that type of roaring classic rock that made fortunes for Tom Petty , Bob Seger and John Fogerty . Thankfully Adam Granduciel has decided not to sit around twiddling his thumbs and set himself the task of matching his musical sparring partner. On the evidence of this new album Slave Ambient he has secured a very large points victory in terms of twelve musical rounds although not a complete knock out.

This album takes a number of songs from the earlier Future Weather EP and reworks them but more importantly Granduciel follows Vile in cherry-picking from American classic rock heritage not least Springsteen , Dylan , Jerry Garcia , Gene Clark and Lou Reed but manages also to slip in a dash of My Bloody Valentine here, a small helping of The Cure and Echo And The Bunnymen there and top it all with a nod to Arcade Fire . In less careful hands it could be a right old mess, but Adam Granduciel is no mere copyist and as a brilliant songwriter with smart tunes to spare he strategically locks down the whole kit and kaboodle with Slave Ambient being one of the most enjoyable releases of 2011.

Interestingly, Slave Ambient is also one of those records that just hits you from the first listen and it makes complete sense. Take for example the stunning opener ‘Best Night’ full of huge flowing guitar lines and a propulsive drive that makes you want to listen to it over and over as Granduciel intones that “I believe that I’ve been cursed, been drowned and reimbursed,” His voice owes a large debt to Dylan and on the albums closer the lovely chiming acoustic ‘Black Water Falls’ you feel that the spirit of his Bobness must have been pumped into the studio.

Second track ‘Brothers’ is a reworked version of the one found on Future Weather EP and completes the superb double whammy at the start of this album by matching ‘Best Night’ in a song that powers along with an almost Lou Reed disdainful style vocal and again the best melodic lines this side of Wishbone Ash . These highlights are matched at various points in the record not least the with the thumping driving rock of the splendid ‘Your Love Is Calling My Name’ a six-minute rock driving-anthem in the making and evidence that the War on Drugs are made for the American freeway with a level volume required for the song to be heard in at least five neighbouring states.

Some reviewers have suggested it to be the natural heir to Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ although the jury’s still out on that claim. It is the music of Tom Petty alternatively that infuses the midpoint song ‘Come To The City’ although it is doubtful that Petty ever produced anything quite this sonically whacked out, especially the beast of a guitar backdrop which emerges in the third minute.

The highlight of Future Weather EP was ‘Baby Missiles’ and the reworked version is even better. It is the type of song that the Arcade Fire have monopolised over the last few years with a rather large riff, a Win Butler (ish) ‘shouty’ vocal and a killer (if rather brief) harmonica solo. The beating instrumental which follows it ‘Original Slave’ does seem to have some continuity with ‘Baby Missiles’ and as with the earlier instrumental ‘The Animator’ both act as complimentary interludes or extensions to the main songs. Finally, a mention must go to the rock strut of ‘It’s My Destiny’, which has enough arrogance to start a bar fight. Truly, there is something special going on here.

War on Drugs’ Slave Ambient , along with Kurt Vile’s solo work, shows that the beating heart of classic American rock music is very much alive and full of vitality. In a short period of time this record with its swirling guitar lines, formidable synth back drops and hammering attack sounds like one of the main contenders for 2011 accolades, but more than that, its one you’re going to need to seek out with due haste. You really do need this album.