Philadelphia's The War on Drugs always wanted to make an album of American hymns. That time honed tradition that takes roots in Americana by way of the folk-y Vanguard channels, the Dylan folk gone rock back pages toward the flood lit stadiums, festival main stages and bandstands that feed to their spectators in the thousands. On their second proper album Slave Ambient, frontman Adam Granduciel brings a newfound refinement to his tales of climbing onward and upward despite any environmental stresses. On TWOD's 2008 effort Wagonwheel Blues, Granduciel sang “There is No Urgency” in the sparse sketches that would later fill the dense sound quests crafted in his home Philly studio, with further work at Jeff Ziegler’s Uniform Recording as well as Asheville, North Carolina's Echo Mountain Recording (of Polvo recording fame).
“Your Love is Calling My Name” is an anthemic waking light that works within the album's opening patchwork as part of electric hums that bring you from the hazy opener “Best Night,” to the desperado balladry on “Brothers” and the piano lead lull on “I Was There.” All the albums kinetic songs co-exist on the cushioning between tracks that provide both build ups, transitions and anticipatory introductions.
I approached the album initially listening for the single “Come to the City,” but found myself more amazed by the instrumental songs that bookend the track. You could argue that the shimmering synths that sustain for over 2 minutes with a muted saxophone breath on “The Animator” are really all part of “Come to the City's” grand opening fabric as much as “Come for It” works as part of the single's big grand finale. “Come for It” also bridges into the next proper radio friendly pop gem “It's Your Destiny,” providing ambient beats in a half minute track. Even if Granduciel’s at times garbled delivery grate on the ears, it serves as an almost welcomed vocal sloppiness with some great backing grooves (including shameless flirtation with an adult comtemporary keyboard sample).
What makes Slave Ambient rewarding on multiple listens is how Granduciel has underscored his songs throughout the album. So even if that heal the world vibration is still coursing through your bones long after “Come to the City” has designated Philly as a city of action and destination; you will be reminded of the song's marching rhythmic swirls and loops with “City Reprise.” Even earlier tracks like “Your Love is Calling My Name” get a reprise of their own or at least the honor of being expounded upon with the Born in the U.S.A. era E Street Band affectations on “Baby Missiles.” And just as the other tracks are equipped with their own appointed sub-songs; “Baby Missiles” finishes into the transitional electric sustained buzz on “Original Slave” before Granduciel switches it up with the acoustic tinted ballad “Blackwater” that sends the album’s final moments up to the sky.
Even without Kurt Vile's contributions, Ambient shines as a fully realized gently-psyched tinged album for road trips and the earth’s wanderers. Fans will welcome the stadium thumping buzz of TWOD's drifting marches while tired detractors will bemoan that synth loops drone a few minutes past their welcome for some palettes that are in favor of succinct musical economies. Regardless, TWOD have made their way to the main stage by their own bootstraps with the road weary songs to boot.