Band of the Day

2011.11.22

The War On Drugs

Shimmering psychedelia inspired by rock greats like Bob Dylan
And your thoughts will tumble like rocks do, over the valleys of factory oceans.
lyrics from Arms Like Boulders

The War On Drugs formed in 2005 in Philadelphia, PA around founding members Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile's shared love for Bob Dylan. The band changed line-ups several times and released a demo EP as well as 2008's Barrel of Batteries EP. Their 2008 debut album Wagonwheel Blues followed, released by Bloomington, Indiana-based label Secretly Canadian. On the strength of their debut, the band became known for their dense rock and roll, mixing roots and classic rock with more contemporary indie sounds. The band's line-up continued to shift, with Kurt Vile leaving the band to pursue his solo career making a similar brand of psychedelic blues rock. With Adam Granduciel still at the helm, the band released the 2010 EP Future Weather and 2011 album Slave Ambient, both on Secretly Canadian. These later releases featured a more complex and psychedelic sound, receiving widespread critical acclaim.

Philadelphia's The War on Drugs must have a sense of humor, their music sure sounds like stoner rock. That isn't to say it's meandering or half-baked. The band makes powerfully focused rock and roll, but with enough hazy drone and jams to power a lava lamp. In contrast to most psychedelic bands these days, the War on Drugs gun for a muscular rock and roll sound inspired by heavy weights like Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. Not so surprisingly, the band was formed in 2005 around guitarist and songwriters Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile's love of Bob Dylan. There's something quintessentially American about the band: maybe it's the harmonica cameos and glimpses of Americana, the large scale majestic-ness of their music, or the impassioned Dylan-esque slurred lyrics. In any case, both of the War on Drugs' LPs, 2008's Wagon Wheel Blues and 2011's Slave Ambient, mix a gorgeously foggy experimental streak with classic meat and potatoes rock. Slave Ambient is the band's first album without Kurt Vile, who left the band to pursue his successful solo career. However, the quality has improved if anything. The album is a dense and an emotionally intense mix of shimmering rock and bluesy ballads. “Come to the City” unleashes a storm of organ drone and rumbling drums below singer/songwriter Adam Granduciel as he slurs "I've been rambling, I've just been drifting ... Wohooooo!" "Baby Missiles" is the band's Tom Petty jam, propelled forward by 80s style keyboard and an insistent drumbeat that gives it a rollicking, train about to burst off its tracks kind of feel. When they break out the blurry, bluesy harmonica it hits you right in the gut like the best primitive, back to the basics rock. In contrast to those rockers, "Best Night" is resigned and melancholy with its beautiful melody and twilight porch feel. Wagon Wheel Blues is less psychedelic than the sophomore release, sounding almost like a highly skilled bar band. The Dylan vibes are even stronger here, with songs like Arms Like Boulders adopting his signature vocal lilt and poetic second person lyrics, "Now that you realized that planets are spheres/With whales on the inside/And your god is only a catapult waiting for the right time to let you go/Into the unknown." The War on Drugs take the best of bluesy, rootsy rock and roll and combine it with beautifully spacey effects. Like the rock greats they emulate, there's an urgency and intensity to the music that sets it apart.