Music Feature

Review: Slave Ambient by The War on Drugs

by Ryan O'Connell
Philly band continues to make ideal road trip music

Pre-conceived notions have complex ramifications. They can either be potentially dangerous (like when I thought that Lost looked ridiculous,) incredibly helpful (avoiding a food like broccoli) or possibly harmful in regards to denying yourself something that is ultimately awesome (i.e. Brussels sprouts.) While it’s hard to determine exactly what category the Philadelphia band The War on Drugs belongs in, one thing is for certain- my pre-conceived notions were way off about them.

For starters, The War on Drugs do not play hipster dance music, which for some odd reason, I was convinced they did. Their sound doesn’t sound the least bit hipster at all. Color me surprised- pleasantly.

Slave Ambient is the latest release from the band and features the same kind of longing and day-dream inducing American roots music that their last album, Wagonwheel Blues, did. The sound is expansive and fills up a room when played loudly (very appropriate and should possibly be required) through speakers. The War on Drugs are said to play “road trip music” and I agree completely- just as long as the weather is nice and the roads are straight. While it’s not necessarily music fitting for an East Coast road trip- one filled with twist and turns and bumps and bruises, it is almost perfect for coasting through the Heartland, casually ignoring the speed limit, slugging back coffee and nonchalantly chain-smoking cigarettes. There is a level of idealism within The War on Drugs’ music and it’d be wise to consider and honor that when picking a road to travel while listening to Slave Ambient.

It is American rock. It’s rock influenced by some of the greats- whether that’s Poppa Springsteen or early U2 or Wilco. Tom Petty would be proud.

Slave Ambient is an album that doesn’t get you right away, but does after a couple spins. I feel it’d be unfair to chalk it up as significant background music, except that’s what it kind of is. There really isn’t anything overwhelmingly remarkable about The War on Drugs, but they do have a familiarity and consistency to them that speaks volumes and makes them so easy and fun to listen too. Their musicianship is solid and polished and each song on Slave Ambient is very well crafted. There aren’t many blemishes- it flows smoothly from start to finish.

Reviewing what we’ve learned:
The War on Drugs do not play hipster dance music.
Slave Ambient is a great album to listen to while driving.
Brussels sprouts are delicious.

Honest to God American rock bands are becoming harder and harder to come by these days. The War on Drugs are one of them- a damn good one at that. They might not have you as a diehard fan yet, but there’s a good chance they will soon.

* Band photo courtesy of Tre Magazine

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