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The War on Drugs - Slave Ambient

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Artist: The War on Drugs

Album: Slave Ambient

Label: Secretly Canadian

Review date: Aug. 17, 2011

Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs has, throughout its life as a band, endeavored to blend two seemingly disparate strains of music together. On the one hand, the group — led by singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel — plays a classically timeless strain of rock music: think mid-’80s Springsteen or Neil Young’s Zuma. These are songs designed to be played in an archetypal car with its windows down, engine floored as it heads down the interstate. On the other hand, there’s a blissful quality -- less psychedelic and more coming from the ambient/drone side of things. It’s not dissimilar to the devastatingly subtle boundary-ebbings practiced by the likes of Marissa Nadler and Sharon Van Etten. It’s an intriguing concoction, and on Slave Ambient, the band balances it nicely.

“Your Love Is Calling My Name” fuses an anthemic melody (recalling Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”) with a blistering keyboard-centric counterpoint that grows in prominence over the song’s six minutes. This segues directly into “The Animator,” which seems to have been influenced just slightly by David Bowie’s Berlin Trilogy. Even when the arrangements are more straightforward, as on the album-closing “Blackwater,” the group is largely capable of writing neatly compelling songs, encompassing fear and elation, frustration and joy.

Sometimes, the band’s blend of approaches doesn’t entirely click. The tone of “Baby Missiles” comes off as a bit too breezy; rather than the nuanced transcendence offered throughout much of Slave Ambient, what emerges recalls the less memorable Top 40 rock songs of the mid-’80s. More often than not, though, Slave Ambient offers a sound that’s equally familiar and new, simultaneously meeting expectations and evading them. It’s an album whose immediate accessibility cloaks a deeper, subtler series of rewards.

By Tobias Carroll

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