Review Summary: There is no urgency.
Failure can motivate one to the grandest of inspirations. While American politicians have waged their personal vendetta on drugs for almost half a century now, the Philly based Americana revivalists The War on Drugs have used that colossal misfire as a branch for creativity. What some such as journalist David Simon see as a “holocaust in slow motion,” Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel see a catalyst for youthful expression.
With roots that draw heavily from the likes of Dylan and Springsteen, it would be an injustice to dismiss the group as a tired rip off. The War on Drugs brand of soulful rock n’ roll is unique in its own right. It often meanders off in a dazed electronic fervor or an introspective post rock movement. It is equal parts Tom Petty and Sonic Youth. It harkens back to a more innocent time, when the corruption of American bureaucracy was executed in a more discreet manner; a time when the youth were as a much a danger to corporate agenda as foreign power. The phonographic nostalgia invoked on Wagonwheel Blues
may never garner the same response as the cultural revolution of the late sixties did but it sure feels authentic to it. It serves as an allegory for political and social injustice that feels as relevant today as Dylan did in the sixties. Granduciel’s lyrics tear at the fabric of societal failings such as on opener “Arms Like Boulders”: "And so now that you realize that planets are spheres with oil on the inside / And your God is only a catapult waiting for the right time to let you go into the unknown."
Despite the album’s droning and (at times) lack of self awareness, it never fails to intrigue from start to finish. Its ambience lingers on the ears, demanding a flowery post rock climax that never fully blossoms. The closest it comes to this is on penultimate track “Show Me the Coast” when a steady snare resounds over ambient textures and signals the approaching conclusion of the ten minute jam. “There Is No Urgency” builds from silence into a slow haunting requiem, brilliantly displaying that the band aren’t so much concerned with the end result but the ride itself.
The themes that the War on Drugs evoke are purely American, a tribute to a society that struggles against the wagon wheels of our generation but never cease to strive toward progression. With a wink and a nod, they tip their hat at what came before, embracing the future with open arms.