The Secretly Canadian Newsletter

The deeper we dig into modern music, the less our tastes make any real sense. For years, we found it curious, this equal devotion to Tom Petty and Spacemen 3, artists who made some of their most pivotal records at nearly the same time but with polar approaches. Or how about our mirrored admiration of Neu! ’75 and Blood on the Tracks, two very different albums from two different continents that happen to share a release year and a major place in our hearts? Flying Saucer Attack and Springsteen? New Order and No Wave? The Byrds and Bread and Burt Bacharach? How is a music fan supposed to reconcile all of this?

Fall in love with Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs. The vehicle of Adam Granduciel — frontman, rambler, shaman, pied piper guitarist and apparent arranger-extraordinaire — The War on Drugs seemed similarly obsessed with disparate ideas, with building uncompromised rock monuments from pieces that might have seemed odd pairs. On their debut, the life-affirming Wagonwheel Blues, 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 Springsteen 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.

The War on Drugs are one of the most exciting young rock ‘n’ roll bands in the world. People question that conviction, unconvinced that an act so new or with such clear historical forebears could absolutely be called a favorite. Sure, The War on Drugs’ music overflows with echoes and strains of the songs and sounds we’ve all loved, yet it always feels singular and seamless, a perfect and pure distillation of influences into something that sounds like nothing else. Every song on Slave Ambient is instantly identifiable and infinitely intricate, a latticework of ideas and energies building into mile-high rock anthems. They are songs for future converts, welcome signs for folks who should, soon enough, also call The War on Drugs their favorite young rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet. — GRAYSON CURRIN


Best Night


I Was There

Your Love Is Calling My Name

The Animator

Come To The City

Come For It

It's Your Destiny

City Reprise #12

Baby Missiles

Original Slave

Black Water Falls