Noisy and experimental, Britain's Swell Maps experienced little commercial success during the course of their chaotic career, but in hindsight they stand as one of the pivotal acts of the new wave: not only was the group an acknowledged inspiration to the likes of Sonic Youth and Pavement, but their alumni — most notably brothers Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks — continued on as key players in the underground music community. Although Sudden (vocals/guitar) and Soundtracks (piano/drums) formed the first incarnation of the Swell Maps (named after the charts used by surfers to gauge wave intensities) as far back as 1972, the group did not begin to truly take shape until 1976, when the siblings enlisted bassist Jowe Head and guitarist Richard Earl. In the spirit of punk's "do-it-yourself" mentality, they formed their own label, Rather Records, and issued their debut single in the early weeks of 1978. Local media support soon won the group a distribution pact with Rough Trade, but they did not resurface until over a year later. In mid-1979, the Swell Maps released their full-length debut A Trip to Marineville, a crazy-quilt of punk energy and Krautrock-influenced clatter. After the release of one more speaker-shredding single, the group recorded one final studio LP, Jane from Occupied Europe, before breaking up. Each of the members followed their own career paths, playing solo and forming bands: Sudden formed the Jacobites, Soundtracks joined Crime and the City Solution, and Head played with the Television Personalities. Each album has been remastered, includes liner notes and unreleased photos as well as bonus tracks not available on previous versions of these iconoclastic albums.
Taken By Trees' Other Worlds is a impressionist poem for the Hawaiian Islands, where on a recent visit, chanteuse Victoria Bergsman found a swell of creative inspiration.
Working closely with photographer Amanda Marsalis, Victoria intimately documented her time in Hawaii. "I gathered ideas for songs, recorded nature sounds and Amanda filmed and took photos of me constantly. Her work is very dear to me and both of us believed this [project] to be something special and very precious."
Producer Henning Fürst collaborated with Bergsman on the sound and overall feel of the album. The album's dub ventures are gently layered with synths and Victoria's voice, floating along with the bass line. The music reflects the natural beauty of the Hawaiian islands — floating in a perfectly blue pond, a kind breeze coasting off the waves, abundant deep green foliage, sweet slices of pineapple and milky coconut, the delicate pink of a seashell curled like a baby's ear. Sandy toes, hidden waterfalls, the dreams you have after a long day at the beach.
"Dreams" is a highlight from Taken By Trees' Other Worlds, an album front-to-back inspired by chanteuse Victoria Bergsman's visit to the Hawaiian Islands. The touches of dub are gently layered with synths and Victoria's voice, floating along with the bass line. The music reflects the natural beauty of the Hawaiian islands — floating in a perfectly blue pond, a kind breeze coasting off the waves, abundant deep green foliage, sweet slices of pineapple and milky coconut, the delicate pink of a seashell curled like a baby's ear. The Dreams 12" features extended instrumental and dubbed out remixes by Henning Fürst of The Tough Alliance.
The Enemy Chorus is a hypnotic voyage through a largely aphotic locale with unpredictable bursts of light and sound – perhaps amidst the heavens, or maybe under our own feet. While no less beautiful than their debut, this record carries a greater feeling of uncertainty, longing, anxiety, and sadness.
The group’s production skills have been greatly refined – at times, reminiscent of Nigel Godrich’s great layered atmospheres. Though, the approach to recording is essentially the same, and the distinct “Earlies sound” remains intact. Their listening habits changed considerably between the recording of the two albums – exploring the depths of progressive and krautrock. Influences range from the essential work of Faust, to prog greats Gentle Giant, to the musique concrete madness of Jean-Claude Vannier.
Produced on both sides of the Atlantic and with a palette of sounds almost as wide; The Earlies debut album These Were The Earlies brings together their first self released singles and subsequent EP's. Originally released in 2004 on Names/679 Recordings in the UK, Secretly Canadian is proud to present this gem to the long-deprived people of North America.
Working with manipulated performances by a collective of English and American musicians These Were The Earlies combines layered vocals with imaginary and more traditional instruments to produce a unique pop sound where sonic exploration can still take place. Residing in Northern England and Western Texas The Earlies are united by a shared love of The Band, The Beach Boys, The Byrds, and The Beatles. All get a gracious nod on The Earlies debut album together with a unique mix of obscure psychedelic, progressive, leftfield and country influences. It's very apt that Brian Wilson has waited until recently to unveil his masterpiece Smile, it could be said The Earlies have provided us with the 21st Century equivalent. The variety of instrumental texture, layered harmonies and electronic tweaks - complete with a strong American lead vocal - could easily make The Earlies a Jason Pierce, Neil Young, and Phil Spector side project were they all decided to let their hair down and have a bit of fun for a change. Traversing some of the same territory inhabited by Deserter’s Songs-era Mercury Rev and Olivia Tremor Control, The Earlies truly steer their own ship.
The Earlies lovingly crafted music is the culmination of many years posting and emailing ideas back and forth. They began releasing their own 7” records in the summer of 2002 and have developed into a full-blown live band, studio collective, and production team. Producing their own songs and successfully honing their chaotic ‘whoever’s available’ studio approach to perform production duties for an increasingly impressive array of artists such as Micah P. Hinson, Leona Ness, and King Creosote under their Names On Records guise.
In the spring of 2004 the four core members of The Earlies got together for the first time, rounded up their mates and took to the road with an eleven-piece band. In the handful of shows they have done to date they have built an impressive reputation for their uncompromising set up, on stage banter and confident widescreen sound. From the first chance meetings in Texan record stores and Manchester watering holes to the triumphant, team sized, live show The Earlies believe their “musically simple - sonically tricky” approach should always be entertaining.
The Earlies are Giles Hatton (Manchester), Christian Madden (Burnley) for the English half, and John Mark Lapham (Abilene) and Brandon Carr (Dallas) for the Texan other half.
Horns Of Happiness provide the two sides to the second half of their newnew sound with "What Spills Like Thread". With the follow-up 12" to last year's "Would I Find Your Psychic Guideline", they're now navigating the waters of hypnotic, organ-driven thump rock. On this record, the HoH have expanded into a trio, with new member Elaina Morgan providing the bottom end to the disjointed fuzz of Aaron Deer and Shelly Harrison's organ/drum combo. Played out in two extended jams, side A evokes ESG on the dance floor with Can at an absinthe-fueled afterparty, while side B is a woozy pop-drone undulation.
From the west coast bedroom pop beginnings of last year’s A Sea As A Shore, Aaron Deer’s (one half of The Impossible Shapes) one time solo project is now anchored with the drumming kaleidoscope of one Shelley Harrison on their latest 12” Would I Find Your Psychic Guideline. Now a duo, the Elephant Six foundations have given way to a treasure trove of pounding rhythms and repetitive organ lines not unlike New York’s Oneida at their devilish best on Each One Teach One, or 20-odd years earlier when Philip Glass and Suicide brought the minimalist keyboard aesthetic to the rest of the world... but don’t be mislead. This is a 12”, not some overly heady art damaged Brooklyn piece of vinyl. It's corn-fed head-bobbin' music from the midwest...
The Horns of Happiness are all around you. Stretching across the countryside and delving into the deepest sea, they create and are created by all existence. They can be found in boisterous days of celebration and rebirth along with the quiet whispers of defeat and loneliness. A song to lift your feet through uncountable joy and complete distress. In this case, The Horns are interpreted almost entirely by songwriter Aaron Deer as he has witnessed their actions and reactions throughout 2001 and 2002. As core member of both the Impossible Shapes and John Wilkes Booze, Deer has established himself as a feroucious live performer and inventive collaborator in the studio. For his second album utilizing the Horns of Happiness moniker, he showcases his prowess on virtually every instrument. Like a glorious pillow fight in the heavens between Paul & Linda McCartney and Grandaddy, A Sea As A Shore is full of fuzzed out psychedelic pop songs composed with acoustic & electric guitars, pumping organs and dreamy vocals. They are interspersed with instrumental interludes where pianos mingle, banjos bark and tape loops shuffle. Built upon simple, spontaneous parts, and sculpted onto the tape, the songs as a whole take the listener by the hand guiding him to the revelation that music can transport the listener to another place. Fans of Maher Shalal Hash Baz, the Microphones and the Olivia Tremor Control will find a good friend in A Sea As A Shore.
The Impossible Shapes have been merrily musickmaking — mostly under the radar — for a decade now. With this release the band has recorded songs which were flushed out over many live performances over many tours all across the globe. This album is their pinnacle song mound that could have been issued by Zapple, if times had been different. At the root these four long-hairs are a pop band — kinda like how Byrds became a meta group — who've been strained through British folk as well as the whole post/beat/mystic literate gob. Songwriter Chris Barth translates a cosmological view as psychedelic nursery rhymes or rock n roll cracked into free form strata.
Whilst 2005's critically pumped Horus initiated escalation into a milkwood tapestry of a man vs. earth vs. spirit conceptual acorn, Tum, the 300 edition LP issued just months before is their most thoroughly realized confirmation of man as freedom as seed. Principal songwriters Chris Barth & Aaron Deer nefariously split that nut into mighty gush, fattening this garage cum psyche-chamber session enough to peel back grooves from the cornerstones of Shirley Collins' Folkways side False True Lovers to Bobb Trimble's Harvest of Dreams. Now reissued on unlimited CD, Tum is deliciously reborn for all. Formed in 1998 the Shapes -- Barth (guitar, vocalist), Deer (organ, bass) Jason Groth (guitar) and Mark Rice (drums) -- have kept a profoundly articulate sense of classic song/dream structure whether they are billowing in drenched multi-tacked gauze like Indianapolis forefathers Zerfas or snarled in amp-buzz annihilation of power-quartet stage performances. Easily the rawest tapes of the Shapes canon, Tum is a potent album, self-produced and directed to articulate a peak without contemporary parallels that easily rides against the sloshed chunks of bland neo-folk/whatevers that adds to the rising murk. As backup in the battle, original member Peter King, Amy Karr (The Mean-Agers) and Stefan Gabriel contribute throughout. These 17 songs/moments act like spell casting vessels...as hot-mouthed barefoot children with gloved fists pounding out the body-shuddering call of all to return, neck-deep, to the earth-cult. Time to carve some bark into a ticket and get in line. The wide umbrella of activity outside The Impossible Shapes stretches to each member's participation and full-on rolls in The Coke Dares (Essay Records), John Wilkes Booze (Kill Rock Stars), Barth's solo persona Normanoak (Secretly Canadian) and Deer's solo side Horns of Happiness (Secretly Canadian).
The Impossible Shapes is a quartet from the southern reaches of Indiana featuring bass/keys-man Aaron Deer, guitarist/bassist Jason Groth, drummer Mark Rice, and songwriter/singer/guitarist/polemicist Chris Barth. Horus is the group's fifth proper full-length album since 2000 and the one that takes the clues and abstractions of all previous and encapsulates them as a monumental and subversive vessel. At point-A we have a classic album from a post-Aquarian world that would be on the electric side of Bert Jansch's Pentangle or Fotheringay. Then from point-B Barth takes a lyrical journey that saunters against the slim lines of magickal romance, demon chasing, Pan, and vile humanistic impulses that reads of equal parts Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Aleister Crowley. His litanies on discovery and shadowy desires of hedonism and courtly love line each song with a tint of naturalistic folk force and free will. A swell of grandeur appears across this song cycle, morphing out of the delicate hill-side inflected guitar melodies into miniature cathedral celebrations. An association of fellow travelers exists within the songs evoking the ancestral pull of early Pink Floyd and a non-acoustic Incredible String Band changing milk-into-gold with their dark brethren Comus. The wide umbrella of activity outside the Impossible Shapes stretches to each member’s participation and full-on rolls in Songs: Ohia/Magnolia Electric Co, The Coke Dares, John Wilkes Booze, Barth's solo persona NormanOak and Deer's solo side Horns of Happiness, though no thinning of blood is found within Horus. The magical spells cast song-by-song grow with each moment that they are set free with every listen.
Having been together since their teenage years, the Impossible Shapes recorded their first hundred or so songs to four-track cassette, naturally coming into their own voice as a band and developing a hunger for a more conventional recording studio environment. For We Like It Wild, their fourth proper full-lengh, the band ventured to the wooded Indiana hills of Monroe County. Surrounded on three sides by a few thousand acres of Indiana State Forest lies Farm Fresh Studio. With Chris Barth as primary songwriter, the Shapes' fascination with "the other side" of the hum-drum routine of modern life comes to the fore. And Farm Fresh is the perfect environment for a band who would have been just as well at home on Vashti Bunyan's cart-ride across England's country-side, hoofing it during the day, setting up camp at night, chasing dogs and smoking tea into the dreamscape. During the session, this wayward band frequently lost themselves in the forest before returning to the converted barn for tracking. The end result is this incredible satellite transmission from the other side as only the Impossible Shapes know it. With alternating lead guitars, the band recalls the urban paranoia of Television and the forlorn southern gothic of Derek & the Dominoes with Barth's fey Donovan-esque voice sounding as though it's coming from across the Atlantic. All the while they maintain the urgent bounce of early R.E.M. As any Hoosier who's seen them live would attest, the Impossible Shapes are at the top of the heap of Indiana's new wave. Reared on healthy doses of the melancholy art pop of Indianapolis' Marmoset and United States Three, and - having grown up only a few short hours from Dayton, Ohio - Guided By Voices, the Breeders and Swearing at Motorists. A true ensemble band with revolving instrumental duties, the band features Barth, Aaron Deer, Jason Groth and Mark Rice and have honed themselves into quite the rhythm section over the years, pulling duty in such bands as John Wilkes Booze and Songs: Ohia, among others. The vinyl for We Like It Wild is being released by Atlanta-based label The Great Vitamin Mystery.
After the world-wide success of BOB'S BACON BARN, the Elephants honed their bowing arms and picking fingers to deliver their second call to sea, LE FETE DU CLOUNE-PIRATE. The Elephants have successfully stapled together the fringe of bluegrass and jazz with Middle-Eastern melody and late night absurdity. At times it seems if the living spirit of jazz legend Moondog has gotten a leg up on the Elephants as two alto-saxophones carry out each jam. Still sticking to the bluegrass framework, the banjo, upright bass and guitar carry the heavy riffs of twang as the fiddle and flute intertwine into thick strands of fusion. Rollicking and kicking up dust the junk percussion set up keeps time as the chimes, vibes and glockenspiel add the accents and country tingles.
String the banjo. Lick the reeds. Pack the bowl... The lives of the Japonize Elephants are the type an outsider can never comprehend. Brought together by an unnatural obsession with pirate culture, robots, Bill Monroe and fried bacon, the nine people of the tribe are steered by the Emperqq of Zorlock through a catacomb of musical styles at hyper speeds only a Zorlockian could function at. BOB'S BACON BARN is the first release by the Japonize Elephants and gives a glimpse of what this band is capable of. Their musical goulash smells of bluegrass sauteed with a Spanish Middle-Eastern spice and smattered with hardcore Irish pepper, yet is not so easy to pin down. Recorded live to one microphone on Thanksgiving Day, 1996, the violin sounds as crisp as the hubcap percussion.
Presented in reverse chronological order, even the sequence is representative of the band's de facto "nothing good ever comes easy" work ethic. The Panoply Academy spent the better part of a decade as central Indiana's most challenging & compelling bands. Going through a handful of member — and thus slight name — changes, the Panoply Academy have infected basements across the country over and over again having begrudgingly drawn comparisons to Pere Ubu, Sonic Youth, U.S. Maple, Brainiac and from time to time even Wire with an attention span. The one thread running through all of the comparisons is that the band is difficult to pin down. The fact is — like these other bands — Panoply defies categorization. As with many bands of their era, their best recorded works have been scattered in the global wind not in the form of proper albums, but rather in the form of singles and countless compilation tracks. Everything Here Was Built to Break includes every one of those non-album tracks that the Panoply Academy has released since its inception in 1996, from every wave of their career (including the Glee Club, Corps of Engineers and Legionnaires). Arguably even more important than all these songs finally collected together, Everything Here Was Built to Break begins with the fabled “lost album” — the five songs recorded during their last session in 2001. Three of these have never been released, while the other two come from perhaps one of the last perfect 7"es (“Nocturnally Yours” / “Diurnally Yours”). Recorded to a 1" 6-track (as two of the eight tracks just happened to be malfunctioning that week) by LonPaul Ellrich, these songs finally captured the band's live energy that made them the fan favorite for every young scrapper who has been lucky enough to see them perform on their dozen tours across the US between 1996 and 2001 in which they played every sweaty basement DIY club in the midwest and on both coasts. The Panoply Academy’s members have played in other bands of note: Nick Quagliara & Marty Sprowles (Turn Pale), Pete Schreiner (Songs: Ohia, The Coke Dares, Scout Niblett), Ryan Hicks (Measles Mumps Rubella). “The Panoply Academy have chosen a promising stylistic platform — vintage avant-kookiness, heavy influence from mid-period Pere Ubu's particular synthesis of Beefheart's Cubist Delta Blues, Yoko Ono's arch taffy-pill vocals, and England's more polemic post-prog extremism a la Henry Cow. And MX-80's recension of related materials.” — Your Flesh
Tuckered is the feeling you have after meeting CONCENTUS. The Panoply Academy's third proper release is, of course, a progression, though unexpectedly mutated like some genetically engineered seeds. All of the shambled sounds and floating ideas of the previous releases have sprung forth, their ambiguity still at the forefront, yet perhaps they've become less anxious to assert it. Performing under a new suffix, the Panoply Academy is no longer afraid to play rock music or look at the audience or even act like musicians. Panoply singer Darin Glenn squeaks and hocks part-nonsensical lyrics on each song. Guitarist Marty Sprowles scratches the strings into hummable starting points before the other two bat back-and-forth. The rhythmic structures of drummer Ryan Hicks and bassist Pete Schreiner and are not pretty; their locomotive lurches forth and derails without advanced notice. Odd time changes abound on CONCENTUS, every song is fractured into slivers. At any given time, there is part CHAIRS MISSING here or a stutter-stop of a US Maple there and the lyrical callback of Gang of Four. And within the cracked everyday electronics are impacted deep, subliminal glitches. But remember, this is still rock music, modern music. The album is composed of nine songs, grouped into threes, each group making up its own suite. In their live show, the songs all collide together, making the individual songs almost indistinguishable to the unknowing ear, creating something of a carnival. "50%", in and of itself, is its own mini-suite, with a true pop song up front, a yodel/trumpet duet in the middle and the last minute sounding like the first minute of "Teenage Wasteland." "Cash in Your Coffin" begins with a guitar tone-poem and snaps into something, some agitated, spastic refrain or rumba that the kids will eat up, and then it's gone. "Nar Nar Nar" and "The Entertainers" are the singles. CONCENTUS was recorded with Jim Kuczkowski at the Engine Room and Marmoset's LonPaul Ellrich at his house, in the dowry, both located inside Indianapolis, Indiana.
The Panoply Academy formed in mid-1996. All its members came from bands who may someday end up on a Bloodstains Across the Midwest comp -- if anyone is able to uncover those lost records. WHAT WE DEFEND is the six-song follow up to their debut full-length RAH! The EP is a rock album, part MARGIN WALKER and part FLOWERS OF ROMANCE. Call it damaged art-punk, we've used that term before. Past musical comparisons to MX-80 and Smart Went Crazy have fallen short. Instead a holy, distinct and disjointed sound carries Panoply. Singer Darin Glenn's yodel and Marty Sprowles' neurotic guitar playing cut across WHAT WE DEFEND. Keyboardist Bekkah Walker's minimal, Monet-styled samples and beeps follow the ways of Pan Sonic, underlining the taut songs; whereas Nick Q's bass and Ryan Hicks' savage drumming grounds it all into a tight, sweaty basement uber-funk. And Panoply has enough spazz to satisfy the Gravity geeks and angular guitar for all the high-water pants in D.C.
In the keeping with the spirit of Indiana's punk past, the Panoply Academy Glee Club surpass expectations in music and performance. The unaware may scratch their heads and wonder what in Indiana could instigate this musical experimentation. One need only to look at the past to understand the Academy has been infested with the same spirit that flamed Hoosier forefathers MX-80 Sound, Dancing Cigarettes and the Gizmos. Originating in Bloomington during the spring of 1996, the Panoply Academy is composed of Nick Quagliara (bass and vocals), Ryan Hicks (drums) Bekkah Walker (samples, keyboards and vocals), Marty Sprowles (guitar and vocals) and Darin Glenn (vocals, guitar and trombone). Its members hailing from a long line of vital Indiana rock bands including Intro to Airlift, Pretty Pony, Guiseppe, Sway Kiss, Yellow Based Red, and the Yarnmarvins, the Panoply Academy know where it's been and have their sights set on where they want to go. In addition to the nine songs recorded with Mike Krassner at Truckstop in Chicago, RAH! contains twelve pieces of interwoven sound pastiches recorded by various means, individually and collaboratively among the band.
The Panoply Academy Legionnaires -- the latest incarnation of the Panoply Academy -- presents a new full-length album, NO DEAD TIME. In the Panoply Academy's trademark fashion, stability and recklessness go hand in hand in an uncompromising lyrical & musical examination of both sides of the complicated man vs. machine coin. The tension between the two is most apparent, and with a fine balance of careful deliberation and willy nilly abandon, the 21st century man/machine symbiosis is explored carefully. What else could come from a band which harbors not only the deepest of curiosities for, but also an inherent mistrust of the codependency of the modern man and its machines. Even the lines between man and machine begin to blur, as the definition of the latter drifts off to encompass more than just the metallic human-made object, but bleeds into the fleshly arena as our sentient bodies are discovered to bear their own machine-like qualities.The recording process of NO DEAD TIME acts as a testament to the Panoply Academy's assertion that man and machine seem bound by a mutual necessity for one another. Recorded at three different locations throughout the last half of 2000, the process was equally as disjointed as the product. Original tracking began on a horse farm in Southern Indiana, with additional tracking done in a small shoebox-sized Chicago apartment, and finally the overdubbing and mixing was brought back to their hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, and completed at the home of engineer Dan Burton (of Early Day Miners and Ativin). Tied together through soundscapes, NO DEAD TIME intentionally leaves very little room for pause or reflection. And when the rare silence slips in, it only intensifies the drama that plays forth.Pinpointing the Panoply Academy sound has provided difficult recreation for many since their early days in 1996. Having been most consistently compared to the post-punk greats (Pere Ubu, Public Image Ltd., and Gang of Four) and the Washington D.C. art-rock revivalists (Nation of Ulysses, Fugazi and Smart Went Crazy), it seems to us at this juncture that due homage ought to be paid to their under-appreciated Hoosier art rock forefathers who grew up drinking the same PCB-infected Southern Indiana water and rocked the same Bloomington basements and late-afternoon public library shows that the Panoply Academy now enjoys. Bands like MX-80 Sound, Dow Jones & The Industrials, the Gizmos and Dancing Cigarettes, seem to cast ghostly shadows across their music, though how much of a conscious influence they've been on the Panoply Academy may be hard to ascertain.
Two sides: nocturnal & diurnal. Illustrating the duality of man, machine and establishment, the night time and the day time, the dead time and the alive time. It is in such a context that the new era in the Panoply Academy begins. A new era for a new line-up. This 7" is the debut release by the Panoply Academy Legionnaires; a precursor to their full-length NO DEAD TIME. Whereas the Glee Club leaned toward experiments in texture and timbre, and the Corps of Engineers rocked with spastic structures, the Legionnaires synthesize the two extremes into songs that stream with a disjointed flow. This is epic art rock, folks. Like the Sun City Girls reinventing "Layla" in a sleepy midwest village. Yes, the piano has been introduced and it's an unbelievable addition. Recorded at Queensize Studios on a cold day in an industrial park on the west-side of Indianapolis by LonPaul Ellrich (Marmoset, United States 3, Sardina).
The War On Drugs, the Philadelphia-based project of Adam Granduciel, is set to release their third full-length album, the beautifully sweeping Lost In The Dream, on March 18, 2014 via Secretly Canadian. Written and recorded over two-plus years in Philadelphia, North Carolina, New York and New Jersey, following almost two years of nonstop touring in support of 2011's Slave Ambient, Lost In The Dream is the outstanding presentation of Granduciel's progression and growth as a songwriter, performer, and producer. It is an immense listen to be absorbed and discovered now and for decades to come.
The War on Drugs' 2011 breakthrough record, Slave Ambient, is both sprawling and full of bravado. And "Come to the City" is its sprawling, full-of-bravado centerpiece. Yet, for all the bombast contained within the song — the synth-and-sax drones, the searing guitar, the relentless fist-pumping charge — "Come to the City" is a delicate balancing act. Adam Granduciel proves himself a master of texture, tone and momentum — building maximum tension through careful sonic sculpting. Even when its anthemic baseball park finale drops, Granduciel buries it in the ambience just enough so that "Come to the City" never looses that feeling of almost peaking. Its as-yet-unreleased B-Side, "Don't Fear the Ghost," is pure desert-trance American music, Suicide on a southwestern vision quest. This limited-run "Come to the City" 7" is a celebration of a magnificent year for The War on Drugs, as well as a highlight of the band's singular songcraft.
Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs, the vehicle of Adam Granduciel — frontman, rambler, shaman, pied piper guitarist and apparent arranger-extraordinaire, returns with Slave Ambient.
On their debut, the life-affirming Wagonwheel Blues, and the follow-up EP, Future Weather, The War on Drugs seemed obsessed with disparate ideas, with building uncompromised rock monuments from pieces that may have seemed like odd pairs. Folk-rock marathons come damaged by drum machines. Electronic and instrumental reprises precede songs they’ve yet to play, and Dr. Seuss becomes lyrical motivation for bold futuristic visions. Now, Granduciel has done it again, better than before: Slave Ambient, their proper second album, is a brilliant 47-minute sprawl of rock ’n’ roll, conceptualized with a sense of adventure and captured with seasons of bravado.
Slave Ambient features a team of Philadelphia's finest musicians, including multi-instrumentalists Dave Hartley and Robbie Bennett, and drummer Mike Zanghi. Recorded throughout the last four years at Granduciel's home studio in Philly, Jeff Ziegler's Uniform Recording and Echo Mountain in Asheville, NC, the album puts the weirdest influences in just the right places. Synthesizers fall where you might expect more electric guitars (and vice versa); country-rock sidles up to the warped extravagance of ’80s pop. Instant classic "Baby Missiles" is part Spingsteen fever dream, part motorik anthem. “Original Slave” might sound like a hillbilly power drone, but “City Reprise #12” suggests Phil Collins un-retiring to back Harmonia. “I Was There” is Harvest rebuilt by some selection of psychedelic all-stars, while the shuffling, sleepy opener “Best Night” offers a band with too many ideas to be in a hurry. During the mid-album centerpiece “Come to the City,” Granduciel howls and moans, “All roads lead to me/ I’ve been moving/ I’ve been drifting.” Indeed, however unlikely that might seem, all these sounds arrive cohesively in one unmistakable place. Every song on Slave Ambient is instantly identifiable and infinitely intricate, a latticework of ideas and energies building into mile-high rock anthems.
The War On Drugs is once again at the blurred edges of American music: overexposing studio limitations, piling tape upon tape to maximum density, and then — with each song — they pull off the scaffolding to reveal what sticks, keeping only what's absolutely necessary and dig into what sounds like the best kind of fucked up. As on their debut Wagonwheel Blues, they take small moments occurring over multiple tapes and multiple song versions, and put every last drop of trust in their own instinct of momentum.
Future Weather is a provocative — sometimes playful, sometimes weighty — glimpse into The War On Drugs' song-sculpting process, a process that remains a big mystery even to those on the inside. While some bands are content to merely pace the abyss, The War On Drugs coast through it. And along the way, Future Weather sidesteps most every connotation associated with the EP format. There's a true coalescence and symmetry here, one of wash and drone, of momentum and tone, but also of theme. Friendship, loyalty and keeping a group of spiritual brothers together are all themes that songwriter Adam Granduciel focuses in on for Future Weather. "Wondering where my friends are going / Wondering why they didn't take me / Looking out the window of my room / Looking out where something once ran wild," he sings on "Brothers" with a sense of soured peace, leaving out all the right things, leaving room in there for the shared experiences of your own friends. There are cues taken from our best American songwriters, yet The War On Drugs are wise enough to also implode or send themselves into outer space when the moment calls for it. The driving organ riff that pushes "Baby Missiles" may be inspired by a fever dream of Springsteen or Dire Straits more than any particular jam. And the endless layers of guitar melody and atmospherics of "Comin' Through," rather than add weight to the vessel, only work to fill its sails with warmer and warmer winds.
The War On Drugs push the boundaries of a quintessentially American music. Guitars soar and colorful clouds roll past whatever sun or moon you are cruising under, through whatever old bar you are reveling within. The War On Drugs point toward a tireless horizon in the distance that you will never reach but are compelled to chase. It's a tail you've chased your whole life and will continue chasing because your life is more poetic when you are moving toward it - your cinematography is more rich. Wagonwheel Blues is one of those albums that each of us holds onto tightly. They get moved from apartment to apartment through the years; they are songs on the radio that follow us from town to town. They evoke waves of nostalgia and grow more poignant with each new bump along the road.