The best music incorporates the influences of the past with the energy and sensibility of the present to make the sound of the future. Frontman/visionary Adam Granduciel must have inherently known this when he began assembling the brilliant components of The War on Drugs.
The Philadelphia quartet (Granduciel, multi-instrumentalists Robbie Bennett and Dave Hartley and drummer Mike Zanghi) established their unique course on 2008’s Wagonwheel Blues, where soaring Synth Pop melded with expansive Space Rock and was perfectly grounded and centered by a Classic Rock/Folk Pop perspective, like Spiritualized re-imagined as a Byrds tribute. The War on Drugs’ debut was surprising and satisfying, but it was merely an introduction to the band’s power and range, as evidenced by its amazing 2011 sophomore album, Slave Ambient.
Utilizing the populist anthemics of Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen and the Folk simplicity of Bob Dylan coupled with the aggressive Ambient texturalism of Brian Eno and the big-beat Synth Pop of New Order, The War on Drugs invested Slave Ambient with the swelling power of its disparate influences and the enduring strength of its translational abilities. “I Was There” bristles with the sound of Dylan fronting Wilco at its most atmospheric; “Your Love is Calling My Name” could have been a hit for Thomas Dolby a quarter-century ago (or maybe a quarter-century from now); and “Baby Missiles” is quite simply the sonic equivalent of adrenaline, a Farfisa-fueled epic that shudders and roars with the possibilities of an Eno/Springsteen collaboration.
As referential as they might be, The War on Drugs is incredibly adept at reworking ancient formulas into new equations and making fresh new connections between familiar yet wildly divergent points on the musical plane. Ambient Rock. Space Folk. Synth Jam. The War on Drugs is all of that and none of that. They’re the band you’ve always loved and never heard, and they might well become the band you cannot live without.
THE WAR ON DRUGS plays Mayday Friday, Nov. 4 with guests CARTER TANTON and PURLING HISS.