The War on Drugs songwriter and front-man Adam Granduciel has some talented friends in his address book – not least former band member Kurt Vile. But it’s a testament to Granduciel’s own formidable ability he can call-up some of Philadelphia’s best session musicians to help make War on Drugs’ second album proper. It’s also the reason why WOD are a band which are more than living up to their early hype.
‘Slave Ambient’ is at once full of rock ’n’ roll aplenty. The first four tracks in particular are richly layered and immaculately produced nuggets of sustained guitar parts and arena sized arranging, all stitched together by Granduciel’s brilliant lyricism and sardonically warm delivery. Just listen to ‘Brothers’, where he sings with poignant universality the lonely refrain, “wondering where my friends are going, and wondering why they didn’t take me”, before the album shifts into some shoe-gazing and repetitively synthy instrumental territory, and then back to a finale of classy Philly-rock anthems. There are 12 tracks on the album, but in truth there are really only eight songs, what with all the reprises and motifs that keep popping up left, right and centre. But it’s a textural landscape that Bowlegs has become rather joyously lost in, as ‘Slave Ambient’ just gets deeper, and more welcoming, with every immersive listen.
When influences are too strong they can overpower a work, leaving the listener feeling cheated by something that all too obviously recalls better things. The War on Drugs have been variously compared to more than a few towering greats over the years – Bruce, Bob, MBV – to name but a few: but Bowlegs is delighted to find that one of its favourite emerging acts of the last few years has delivered on their early promise and produced a gorgeously interesting hybrid of tracks that easily surge past the point of lazy comparison.
‘Slave Ambient’ is as grandiose as it is teeming with minutely accomplished detailing. Surely a future favourite for anyone savvy enough to buy what is, and, for Bowlegs, the essential purchase of the month. Turn ‘Slave Ambient’ up loud and bathe in the glory of the great American rock pastoral as it should be presented in the modern era.