Review Summary: Americana, broken into a hundred tiny pieces.
I can call Slave Ambient
rain music and not feel bad about it. Unlike the kind of music you’d usually tag for the rain, the sad stuff, it is a completely drenched record, taking its worn lyrics and pouring down on them. The War on Drugs has, in this sense, always been an intriguing band, able to do more than simply complement their lyrics with music. As musicians, they know the themes they sing inside-out, ready to take the Americana influences they have and invert them with all things “shoegaze.” They add in harmonica for good measure, but be it one genre or the other, The War on Drugs, and Slave Ambient
in particular, is the work of a band already perfectly in control of itself, and so early in their career. They know how their music sounds, and I guess it sounds like it’s pouring.
Still, beyond that, it’s hard to write about this band. And I guess that’s because there’s no “angle” to write from. In one corner, they have a master-class lyricist, able to reflect with the pen as jumpily and worryingly as “wondering where my friends are going / and wondering why they didn’t take me” and then throw the line away. Granduciel’s lyrics always carry an indescribable kind of tone which can only really be called self-kicking, but even if this kind of lyric seems simple, no one else could write it, or sing it
, in the way he does. He waves away the deprecating lyrics of “Brothers” so easily, and the music around it- the album’s second corner- refuses to play in any higher ground. The music on Slave Ambient
moulds songs to feel perfectly for an atmosphere that plays on a hundred little details at once. That’s why there are only eight actual songs on this album, because the guys in the War on Drugs are so obsessed with the details and so ready to leave them their space.
I could talk about both the lyrics and music separately, of course, because they’re both such brilliant aspects for one band to have, but what would be the use in that" There’s no moment in Slave Ambient
better than the opener “Best Night” to prove the point that without one the other wouldn’t exist: without the music tracing the words around it, the guitar notes copying Granduciel’s singing, the distortion drenching every moment, there would be nothing that makes the War on Drugs as brilliant as they are. You listen to every moment of Slave Ambient
, the part where he sings “wondering where my friends are going” and every noise, big and small, that deals with the thought.
As a result, Slave Ambient
is an album you play loud. The War on Drugs have, until now, been a very meandering band, with songs such as “A Pile of Trees” moving through eight minutes of what felt like improvisation, or else “Arms Like Boulders” mouthing off to cover a half-constructed song. Here, there’s a pattern set. And it’s a pattern so strong that every tiny moment counts: a song such as “My Love Is Calling Your Name” is impossible to appreciate quiet because of the layers the War on Drugs now lace it with, nearly all of them created with an assortment of clashing guitar noises. It is impossible to be distracted from the music by Granduciel’s lyrical mumblings either, so where the ambience would take the centre-stage before this album, or, if not the ambience, the lyrics, Slave Ambient
moves the song with the pattern. As a result, “My Love Is Calling Your Name” feels connected with a song twenty minutes away from it. The flow is that good; sometimes I forget if I’m listening to “The Animator” or its actual song
counterpart, “Come To the City.” And then things get going. Granduciel’s lyrics start thrusting the song forward. The noises twist the Americana around and around.
It’s so strange to think of this record as the band’s second. Slave Ambient
is the work of a confident band and an articulate lyricist, both who always seemed so on their first record but never really cared. Here, they seem to know where everything goes, and it’s as if they always did but never really felt the need for things to fit. Now they’re ready to put it all together. The melodies on Slave Ambient
know when it’s their turn. So does the noise. Granduciel knows where to kick himself. Slave Ambient
is the work of a band making us listen for every piece of them. And it drizzled a little while I wrote this. So I played it loud. And I heard everything.