Lavin Rant: Slave Ambient

Lavin Rant: Slave Ambient

by Mike Lavin


The War on Drugs – Slave Ambient [Secretly Canadian; 2011]

The War on Drugs is one of those artists were you can pick out their influences so easily, but they still have this unique combination of sounds that isn’t trite. With a voice like Bob Dylan and Tom Petty and instrumentation like ‘80s fuzzy shoegaze that reflects My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive, The War on Drugs takes their sophomore effort Slave Ambient to a new level with this new twist on Americana music mixed in with so many textures.

Forming around 2005, The War on Drugs have faced trials and tribulations with numerous line-up changes, including the departure of one of their major musicians, Kurt Vile, but original band leader and lead singer Adam Granduciel has stayed strong and pushed through to bring us Slave Ambient. With all of its Americana overtones like the introspective lyricism from Granduciel and spontaneous harmonica interludes, Slave Ambient can still sounds foreign to a seasoned Bob Dylan fan or Bruce Springsteen fanatic with its wavy guitars and walls of reverb.

As dreamy and woozy as Slave Ambient’s instrumentation may be, it’s still easy, fun-listening music that really hits a sweet spot. The rambling “Your Love Is Calling My Name” creates the atmosphere for absolutely spot-on highway driving music with a pumping  drum beat and soaring synthesizers nicely placed on top of Granduciel’s nostalgic vocals. The build-up of the ambient “The Animator” into the sprawling “Come to the City” is pure enjoyment. However, as great as Slave Ambient sounds, the drum work can be weak and very trite. The beats sometimes sound off and really don’t delve into any more artistic grounds; there are rarely any fills (drum rolls or improvisation); it’s all one beat for the entirety of the track.

Slave Ambient has other downfalls as well, including some of the less apt “jam” or instrumental tracks like “Original Slave” or “City Reprise #12.” The War on Drugs shine with their vocalist Adam Granduciel. He brings this unique appeal to all of their music and everything it has to offer. Without him they’re simply another one of the hundreds of shoegaze-revival bands that flood the music community, but you can’t discredit the absence of Granduciel on those instrumental tracks, because they aren’t bad, just lacking.

The War on Drugs can easily become one of those “crossover” artists that make their way into the mix of mainstream indie big names like Arcade Fire or Death Cab For Cutie. Slave Ambient is a perfect end of the summer mix that can be easily grasped by anyone interested in delving into an up-and-coming artist like The War on Drugs. Expect an exciting and pure entertaining  future from this bunch of Philadelphia boys.