By TYLER ROSS
The War On Drugs’ latest effort takes it cues from the album’s title, Slave Ambient, particularly in regard to the term ‘ambient.’ A definition of ambient music reads: “A style of instrumental music with electronic textures and no persistent beat, used to create or enhance a mood or atmosphere.” While The War On Drugs don’t come too close to electronic music, Slave Ambient possesses a palpable atmosphere. The album is grandiose and dreamy, a sprawling 47 minute joyride that sweeps by in a seemingly continuous fashion.
Listening to Slave Ambient, one gets the sense of a calm and confident band. On “Best Night,” a dreamy piece that floats by over a steady drumbeat, the group casually riffs off of each other for nearly half the song. Again, the band is clearly in no hurry on “I Was There,” which moseys along to a lazy drum pattern, short piano run, and guitar trills among other languid elements.
Part of this relaxed feeling on Slave Ambient no doubt comes from the noticeable elements of Americana ingrained in The War On Drugs’ panache. There’s the harmonica in “I Was There,” organs in “Baby Missiles,” and a bevy of small nods to the traditional elements that make up Americana. Most noticeable though is a similarity to Bob Dylan, albeit chiefly vocal. In equal parts inflection and delivery, “Brothers” channels the group’s–and primarily frontman Adam Granduciel’s inner Dylan. It’s not all a dream wonderland though. Peaches and cherries stuff. “Your Love Is Calling My Name” starts with a thumping kick drum and crunchy guitar. The edgier start is reflected in the lyrics: “Yeah there’s a ring on my eye/Looking for a fight.” The song develops into a swirling cacophony of beautiful noise. Once the group starts riffing halfway through the song, it’s easier to see The War On Drugs as a doped out U2, packing arenas and putting on one hell of a show.
There’s a lot going on in Slave Ambient. Layers and effects create a dense work only lightened by the quality of the instruments and music: reverb drenched and airy. A jumble of influences and a refusal to work within one genre leave the album refreshing and enveloping. Ambient music never sounded so engaging.