The War on Drugs: 'Slave Ambient'

The War on Drugs

Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

On its second album, Philadelphia trio the War on Drugs rummages through classic rock's dusty old attic like grannies clean-sweeping a church garage sale. Adam Granduciel, when not playing guitar, manipulating sounds, or composing the band's tunes (this after the departure of founding member/guitarist Kurt Vile), is either a versatile vocalist or a decent impressionist, and he spends the bulk of his band's new album imitating his lofty heroes (Petty, Springsteen, and Dylan, mostly).

Occasionally, the results are striking. Highlight "Your Love is Calling My Name" finds the trio cramming all of their influences into one irresistibly epic package. It's the sound of a stoned car ride through the heartland—there's a motorik heartbeat pulsing underneath Granduciel's world-weary vocals, a squelching ambient buzz, and psychedelic guitars that sound like a bar band drifting underwater. On the gorgeous "It's Your Destiny," Asian guitars circle in hypnotic drones of reverb while a trap kit bangs away, partially in time, Granduciel now wheezing in his finest Dylan suit. Sometimes the nostalgia is of the second-hand variety: "Baby Missiles" sounds a lot like Arcade Fire—kick-snare propeller rhythm, mega-synth and guitar layers, and Granduciel's rapid-fire vocal rhythms spewing forth with Springsteen-like (via Win Butler) intensity.

It's a strange brew—vintage Americana and new-millennium psych-rock—and the pairing doesn't always go down smoothly. Every individual song is well-written and performed, Granduciel often driving on rock cruise control. But the mix might leave you grasping for Ibuprofen. The atmosphere, when it's not mushy, is quite lovely, and it's easy to envision these spacious arrangements further blooming onstage. But Slave Ambient occasionally feels as if it is, well, slave to that atmosphere, held captive by the billowing reverb that permeates every inch of every song. There are tons of interesting patterns taking shape, but they're obscured by clouds.