No one ever said music had to be about one specific medium, with no prospect for branching out. I mean, if we took music and really tried to conform it into something both rigid and controlled then there’d be no room for it to breathe. So, when someone can channel both the forlorn voice of Tom Petty and the bare roots exposure of singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen, there’s already going to be Bob Dylan somewhere in there, too. See, like Adam Granduciel, music is about taking all of your passions and desires and pounding them into something tangibly, yet aurally, magnificent. After an album that rushed with folk-rock exposures in Wagonwheel Blues – and a parting with co-member Kurt Vile – Granduciel returns with The War on Drugs‘ proper second album, a kaleidoscope of sounds, in Slave Ambient.
Through all of its many great highlights, Wagonwheel Blues always identified with its folk mentality. Greeted with lyrics that bestowed the kind of tales Dylan used to come up with, but with a stunning guitar style that could carry both harmonies and melodies, the combinations seemed tried and pure. Slave Ambient takes the strengths the band relied on with their erstwhile album and, this time, Granduciel shapes a sound vast with warm tones. On “Your Love Is Calling My Name” the reverb off the walls clouds around the trickling guitar part, while the drums guide us through an affable love tale. The band even employs stark instrumental sections (“Come For It”) where the focus is placed on a transitional break before “It’s Your Destiny”’s transcendent sounds. The music possesses a grainy touch that leaves it sounding unpolished and the effect is, in turn, met with stellar guitar rock.
The band sounds exuberantly like the deepening affect of Bruce Springsteen’s music on songs like “Baby Missiles.” Like Arcade Fire before them (by way of “(Antichrist Television Blues)”), The War on Drugs employ a solid guitar chug to the strumming of honest feelings and emotions. There’s a rich blend of Americana that permeates all of the corners of Slave Ambient and, through the blend of singer/songwriter nostalgia and rugged rock, is the band’s timely spirit. Whether it’s the fitting stomp of “Come to the City” or the texture-driven smooth style of “Brothers,” there’s always the notion of tremendous atmospherics that give the album a sense of all-encompassing works.
There’s a distinct shift in the mood of the music where something as Americana-driven as Slave Ambient can be instinctively respected. Crafted with a strong presence in realizing the sequencing and tracking through it all, it unquestionably rewards with repeated listens. Often, the sounds improve as the album threads by; the influences shaped in the songs have a lasting affect on the overall tone and theme and, though they’re far more lean than ever before, The War on Drugs take it all in stride with a triumphant sophomore album.