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The War On Drugs

The stamping ground for Adam Granduciel and KURT VILE, before the latter spread his talents into a constructive solo career, The WAR ON DRUGS are now one of America’s hottest and “addictive” indie/alt-rock combos. Adam and company had come a long way from their Philadelphia, Pennsylvania roots, mixing up, from their outset in 2005, a heady cocktail of DYLAN-meets-shoegaze vibes.
The Zimmerman factor was what interested both Granduciel and Vile while they sipped on several drinks at a local get-together around 2003. Armed with songs a-plenty via burning the candle at both ends, The WAR ON DRUGS – Adam on vocals/guitar/keyboards and Kurt on guitar/vocals – evolved into a bona fide band after the addition of bassist David Hartley, drummer Kyle Lloyd and auxiliary drummer/keyboardist Charlie Hall.
Local gigs turned into the odd one in New York, while a freebie EP posted on the internet, `Barrel Of Batteries’ (2007), touched indie impresarios Secret Canadian Records. 2008’s debut set WAGONWHEEL BLUES {*7} imagined both DYLAN and NEIL YOUNG side-by-side; frontman Adam’s strangulated nasal tones freewheeled back to Highway 61 (for `Arms Like Boulders’, `Taking The Farm’ and the 10-minute `Show Me The Coast’); the passenger seat occupied by VEGA/REV, SPACEMEN 3 plus a dozen choice shoegaze acts (on `A Needle In Your Eye #16’ and the ENO-esque instrumental `Reverse The Charges’).
It was clear as day that although Kurt contributed greatly to the band, Granduciel was head honcho, leaving Lloyd, Hall and a solo-bound VILE to disperse. Turning the page to a fresh chapter, Adam and David brushed themselves down and roped in only one change: drummer Mike Zanghi. Clocking in at around 25 minutes, the mini-set/EP `Future Weather’ (2010) solidified that The WAR ON DRUGS were still standing strong. If DYLAN and YOUNG had been Adam’s fixations previously, the sound of SPRINGSTEEN took hold on the fist-pumping first version of `Baby Missiles’.
Switching Zanghi for Stephen Urgo and adding Robbie Bennett (piano and acoustic guitar), sophomore set SLAVE AMBIENT (2011) {*7} reprised `Baby Missiles’, `Brothers’ and a complete version of `Come To The City’. Hitching a ride on the coat-tails of Laurel Canyon and Americana acts of the soft-rock 70s, Adam and his WOD dumped their backpacks and shades by the side of a freeway for the cool and breezy `Your Love Is Calling My Name’, `I Was There’ and `Black Water Falls’.
KURT VILE already making a name for himself among the alt/indie glitterati, from out of the blue arrived The WAR ON DRUGS’ breakthrough LOST IN THE DREAM (2014) {*8}, a massive seller from West to East Coast and over the big pond. Drummer Charlie Hall had now returned to supersede Patrick Berkery (who’d replaced Urgo), while a fuller sound came courtesy of guitarist Anthony LaMarca. An hour long and serving up a sort of SPRINGSTEEN on speed (`Under The Pressure’, `Red Eyes’, `An Ocean In Between The Waves’, `Burning’, among others), The WAR ON DRUGS were winning over America’s collegiate, unconcerned what ship’s flag Adam sailed under – JACKSON BROWNE for `Eyes In The Wind’ and the title track at least rid the man of any DYLAN clone accusations. Meanwhile, BEIRUT’s Jon Natchez (saxophone/keyboards) was added on tour shortly after the set’s release.
Crossing the indie-rock divide by switching labels from Secretly Canadian to Atlantic Records, sextet The WAR ON DRUGS – supplemented now by multi-instrumentalist Jon Natchez – soared to new commercial Top 10 heights on album four, A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING (2017) {*8}. A heartland revival in many respects, it was hard for mere pundits to dismiss thoughts of SPRINGSTEEN, DYLAN and an ADAMS – all rolled into one by the feverish Granduciel – when discovering the solid sounds of the nevertheless excellent, `Up All Night’, `Pain’, `Holding On’ and the 11-minute `Thinking Of A Place’.
© MCS Apr2014-Aug2018

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