The War On Drugs, the Philadelphia-based project of Adam Granduciel, is set to release their third full-length album, the beautifully sweeping Lost In The Dream, on March 18, 2014 via Secretly Canadian. Written and recorded over two-plus years in Philadelphia, North Carolina, New York and New Jersey, following almost two years of nonstop touring in support of 2011's Slave Ambient, Lost In The Dream is the outstanding presentation of Granduciel's progression and growth as a songwriter, performer, and producer. It is an immense listen to be absorbed and discovered now and for decades to come.
The War on Drugs' 2011 breakthrough record, Slave Ambient, is both sprawling and full of bravado. And "Come to the City" is its sprawling, full-of-bravado centerpiece. Yet, for all the bombast contained within the song — the synth-and-sax drones, the searing guitar, the relentless fist-pumping charge — "Come to the City" is a delicate balancing act. Adam Granduciel proves himself a master of texture, tone and momentum — building maximum tension through careful sonic sculpting. Even when its anthemic baseball park finale drops, Granduciel buries it in the ambience just enough so that "Come to the City" never looses that feeling of almost peaking. Its as-yet-unreleased B-Side, "Don't Fear the Ghost," is pure desert-trance American music, Suicide on a southwestern vision quest. This limited-run "Come to the City" 7" is a celebration of a magnificent year for The War on Drugs, as well as a highlight of the band's singular songcraft.
Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs, the vehicle of Adam Granduciel — frontman, rambler, shaman, pied piper guitarist and apparent arranger-extraordinaire, returns with Slave Ambient.
On their debut, the life-affirming Wagonwheel Blues, and the follow-up EP, Future Weather, The War on Drugs seemed obsessed with disparate ideas, with building uncompromised rock monuments from pieces that may have seemed like odd pairs. Folk-rock marathons come damaged by drum machines. Electronic and instrumental reprises precede songs they’ve yet to play, and Dr. Seuss becomes lyrical motivation for bold futuristic visions. Now, Granduciel has done it again, better than before: Slave Ambient, their proper second album, is a brilliant 47-minute sprawl of rock ’n’ roll, conceptualized with a sense of adventure and captured with seasons of bravado.
Slave Ambient features a team of Philadelphia's finest musicians, including multi-instrumentalists Dave Hartley and Robbie Bennett, and drummer Mike Zanghi. Recorded throughout the last four years at Granduciel's home studio in Philly, Jeff Ziegler's Uniform Recording and Echo Mountain in Asheville, NC, the album puts the weirdest influences in just the right places. Synthesizers fall where you might expect more electric guitars (and vice versa); country-rock sidles up to the warped extravagance of ’80s pop. Instant classic "Baby Missiles" is part Spingsteen fever dream, part motorik anthem. “Original Slave” might sound like a hillbilly power drone, but “City Reprise #12” suggests Phil Collins un-retiring to back Harmonia. “I Was There” is Harvest rebuilt by some selection of psychedelic all-stars, while the shuffling, sleepy opener “Best Night” offers a band with too many ideas to be in a hurry. During the mid-album centerpiece “Come to the City,” Granduciel howls and moans, “All roads lead to me/ I’ve been moving/ I’ve been drifting.” Indeed, however unlikely that might seem, all these sounds arrive cohesively in one unmistakable place. Every song on Slave Ambient is instantly identifiable and infinitely intricate, a latticework of ideas and energies building into mile-high rock anthems.
The War On Drugs is once again at the blurred edges of American music: overexposing studio limitations, piling tape upon tape to maximum density, and then — with each song — they pull off the scaffolding to reveal what sticks, keeping only what's absolutely necessary and dig into what sounds like the best kind of fucked up. As on their debut Wagonwheel Blues, they take small moments occurring over multiple tapes and multiple song versions, and put every last drop of trust in their own instinct of momentum.
Future Weather is a provocative — sometimes playful, sometimes weighty — glimpse into The War On Drugs' song-sculpting process, a process that remains a big mystery even to those on the inside. While some bands are content to merely pace the abyss, The War On Drugs coast through it. And along the way, Future Weather sidesteps most every connotation associated with the EP format. There's a true coalescence and symmetry here, one of wash and drone, of momentum and tone, but also of theme. Friendship, loyalty and keeping a group of spiritual brothers together are all themes that songwriter Adam Granduciel focuses in on for Future Weather. "Wondering where my friends are going / Wondering why they didn't take me / Looking out the window of my room / Looking out where something once ran wild," he sings on "Brothers" with a sense of soured peace, leaving out all the right things, leaving room in there for the shared experiences of your own friends. There are cues taken from our best American songwriters, yet The War On Drugs are wise enough to also implode or send themselves into outer space when the moment calls for it. The driving organ riff that pushes "Baby Missiles" may be inspired by a fever dream of Springsteen or Dire Straits more than any particular jam. And the endless layers of guitar melody and atmospherics of "Comin' Through," rather than add weight to the vessel, only work to fill its sails with warmer and warmer winds.
The War On Drugs push the boundaries of a quintessentially American music. Guitars soar and colorful clouds roll past whatever sun or moon you are cruising under, through whatever old bar you are reveling within. The War On Drugs point toward a tireless horizon in the distance that you will never reach but are compelled to chase. It's a tail you've chased your whole life and will continue chasing because your life is more poetic when you are moving toward it - your cinematography is more rich. Wagonwheel Blues is one of those albums that each of us holds onto tightly. They get moved from apartment to apartment through the years; they are songs on the radio that follow us from town to town. They evoke waves of nostalgia and grow more poignant with each new bump along the road.