Old rock for the modern age

Next up in Guitar Lessons London’s 5 Great Guitar Albums series is Slave Ambient, the War on Drug’s sophomore album and a highlight of 2011’s releases. A range of guitar sounds and styles permeates the album – strumming, picking, soloing – using many different effects, most notably reverb, delay, phaser and flange, to create a sonically brilliant record. Bob Dylan’s influence in strong in both lead singer Adam Granduciel’s vocals, indebted to Bob Dylan’s unique drawl, and some of the guitar playing. Slave Ambient is a trad-rock album, full of folk and country influences, as well as the stadium rock of Bruce Springsteen. The album owes much to Springsteen’s Nebraska and its use of harmonica instantly recalls The Boss himself. Both ballads and faster, guitar-led, heavily Springsteen-influenced tracks feature on the album, but the unifying factor is the momentum apparent throughout all of the songs, notably Come to the City and Baby Missiles. Slave Ambient is inspired by the past, but undoubtedly fresh.

The War On Drugs - Baby Missiles
The War On Drugs - Baby Missiles

A sun-drenched, dreamy mix

The songs are fitting of a traditional rock outfit, but experimental and most importantly full of heart. The textural balance of all the instruments within the songs works perfectly – the blending of all the elements of It’s Your Destiny, for example, makes for extremely enjoyable listening. The fluid guitar playing works together seamlessly. The use of synths, too, adds another interesting layer to the mix, bringing the songs together and sometimes blending from one track into another - The Animator into Come to the City is a definite highlight of the album. Slave Ambient conjures up thoughts and memories of sun-drenched road trips; it’s a positive album, with anthemic qualities – just listen to Come to the City and you can easily imagine the band playing to a packed stadium of fans. You want to sing along, even though a noticeable number of tracks on the album lack choruses.

Lineup changes

The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs

The album marks the end of lead guitarist, and The War on Drugs co-founder, Kurt Vile’s time in the band. His guitar work can be heard on Best Night and It’s Your Destiny. Vile’s influence had been a driving a driving force for the band up to this point, and since his departure Vile has gone on to release several successful solo albums, including 2011’s Smoke Ring for my Halo and 2016’s b’lieve I’m goin down. The War on Drug’s lead singer Adam Granduciel and Kurt Vile go way back to the early 2000s, and whilst Vile doesn’t play in The War on Drugs anymore, Granduciel is still a member of Vile’s backing band, The Violators. The album was released to critical acclaim six years ago and is well worth a revisit! Highlights include Come to the City, Baby Missiles, and Brothers.

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