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Critic Just Says Yes to The War On Drugs

If Kurt Vile is the Neil Young of this crop of laid-back lo-fi rockers, Adam Granduciel is the Tom Petty.

Critic Just Says Yes to The War On Drugs
Photo courtesy of Graham Tolbert
Pleasantly surprised: The War On Drugs' Adam Granduciel

Adam Granduciel takes his time. It's been about three years since The War on Drugs' serendipitously released debut, Wagonwheel Blues -- three years that have been spent touring like crazy and patiently germinating a follow-up. 

"I wanted to make something that was like a whole case [of songs], where all the songs had their own identity," Granduciel recalls. "Sometimes you finish a song and you're not totally floored by it. Instead of accepting that, I just worked on it until I could listen to it and feel something."

At long last, Slave Ambient, The War on Drugs' dense, dreamy collection of very American rock, was released earlier this month by Secretly Canadian. It's likely to put many listeners in mind of this year's Smoke Ring for My Halo, by Granduciel's friend and former bandmate, Kurt Vile. Could it be that Granduciel and Vile, who left The War on Drugs in 2008, share a deep psychic bond? 

"It's just from working together," Philadelphia-based Granduciel says, dismissing any telepathy theories. "A lot of times people will be like, ‘Oh, your band sounds like Kurt!' or whatever. We've done so much stuff together since we met in 2003. Until about 2007 or 2008, all we did was record together and play." 

Granduciel and Vile formed the band in 2005 and released Wagonwheel Blues in 2008. Granduciel had recorded a number of songs over the years, but had no real plan for the future until a friend clandestinely sent them to Secretly Canadian. 

"They gave us a little bit of money to finish the record, and that's when I got a little recording space setup for my house," Granduciel says. "All in all, I guess that record took like six months. It wasn't like I was working on an album: I just had all these songs that I really liked." 

For Slave Ambient, however, he started from scratch. "With the first album, I didn't know a lot of that stuff was going to be released. All of these [new] songs were made with the intent of putting them on the album." The finished product is a perfect travel record: cohesive without being overwrought, with the unpolished spontaneity of something -- one might romantically imagine -- written and recorded over the course of one lonely and sleepless week. Granduciel shares Vile's habit of bending words to fit strange musical corners, but it's not hard to tell the two apart. If Vile is the Neil Young of this crop of laid-back lo-fi rockers, Granduciel is the Tom Petty. 

Slave Ambient has been met with wide critical acclaim, including four- and five-star reviews from Mojo and Uncut, and a "Best New Music" honorific from Pitchfork. 

"I had such a strong vision for the record, and I knew it was something that I was super-pleased with," Granduciel says. "But I still think that there are some things I would have done differently. I definitely didn't think it would be as well received as it has been so far. It's obviously a pleasant surprise."


THE WAR ON DRUGS with CAVEMAN, JEREMY SESSA. 7 p.m. Thu., Sept. 1. Club Café, 56 S. 12th St., South Side. $8-10. 412-431-4950 or

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