I hope that you, faithful reader, have at least one more long road trip in store as summer wanes away, because The War On Drugs released the perfect cross-country musical accompaniment just for you.
Slave Ambient is The War On Drugs sophomore follow-up to their full-length 2008 debut Wagonwheel Blues, and if you notice that it bears less resemblance to its predecessor, that might have something to do with the departures of band members Kurt Vile, Charlie Hall, and Kyle Lloyd, slimming the remaining outfit to a three-man act. (Kurt Vile, by the way, still has a credit on the album, even though he is releasing his own solo album. Go figure.)
Earlier comparisons of The War on Drugs to the great Neil Young and Bob Dylan still hold true, though they are now pumped through a ton of reverb and joined by a kicking backbeat — no joke, the drums on these tracks are tremendous. I’d join those aforementioned comparisons with ones to Mark Knopfler and Tom Petty as well, especially as those two began infusing synthesizers and pop sensibility just like every other act transitioning from the 1970s to the 1980s.
Sometimes I even hear elements of guitar reminiscent of October/Boy-era U2. There are bits of shoegazing, psych-pop, and folk Americana throughout that creates a package sure to make any all-American child of the 1980s think they’ve stumbled upon some lost record in their parents’ vinyl collection. Ambient folk-rock is probably the best label here, so let’s go with that.
The entire album rides on with a calm steadiness and reflective temperament that befits an hour or so of solitary confinement in an automobile cruising at an average speed of 70 mph and going nowhere in particular. There are moments of high tempo, fret shuffling, harmonica whaling, one-guitar-reverbed boogie woogie, and others of contemplative, piano-infused, echoing melodies, strung together all along by a steady beat that could come across as monotonous and flat if it weren’t so damn comforting.
Highlights for me include the soulfully delivered vocals in the opening track “Best Night,” the ironically named, Dire Straits–esque ballad “Brothers,” the hauntingly melodic triplicate that runs through “I Was There,” the stadium rock befitting “Come To The City,” and the already popular “Baby Missiles,” which is sure to leave you scouring the liner notes for a credit to Bruce Springsteen himself.