Monday, August 14th, 2017

The War on Drugs – Strangest Thing

We declare a war on songs more than three minutes and thirty seconds long…


Nortey Dowuona: The drums glide without feeling like their slogging. The synthesizers are airborne without too much effort. The bass swings beneath the waves of the synthesizers. The guitars raise a damned soul to heaven every time they kick in. And the voice… that voice. Adam Granduciel. Remember this name. Forget that other guy. Remember Adam.

Alfred Soto: All that beauty and pain, cushioned by all the echo and synthesized backing that indie cred can buy. The ferocious guitar solo, which plays the hook instead of extemporizing on its possibilities, is too predictable a good thing. Singles like this require a cold eye lest their attractions lull one into getting bitten, like staring too deeply into a cobra’s eyes. Fortunately, it’s over five minutes long.

Tim de Reuse: Could’ve been transportative in a Beach House-ian kind of way, but it reaches for grandiosity in the same damn two-chord tonal resolution over and over and over again: a sweaty seven-minute plod through a marsh of sugar syrup.

Josh Langhoff: Finally, a band connects the dots between “Touch of Grey” and the hooklessness of all other Grateful Dead music. At least the Dead had an excuse.

Ian Mathers: Even the songs I like by these guys are practically subliminal murmurs, so when they turn it down just one more notch I can’t really keep track anymore. That gap is so small it has me wondering why I do like (say) “Under the Pressure,” which probably isn’t a great sign.

Austin Brown: I get the skepticism towards The War on Drugs, I really do. Dreamy haze or no, is this sound (motorik heartland rock? dream Americana? something equally geeky sounding?) really new or necessary? But in 2017, the number of new artists I can also share with my straightlaced, earnest, raised-on-hair-metal dad seems smaller than ever. That’s reason enough for me to value a band, and its elegantly crafted ballads like this one, that reaches beyond the ever-present cosmopolitan obscurantism (and chill-signifying synths) of contemporary indie into the lizard brain communalism of heartland rock riffage. Adam Granduciel will never write lyrics like Bruce Springsteen, or even the Drive-By Truckers, and so his ballads will always be a little less compelling than his chugging rockers, but who needs lyrics when you have such an indelible sound?

Joshua Minsoo Kim: I’ve never been one for The War on Drugs’ lyrics, but Granduciel understands the weight of words when used purely as signifiers. And as such, the numerous cliché phrases here are granted a pastoral wistfulness when drenched in reverb and presented in a song that ambles casually through soaring guitar solos (that he sounds like Dylan also helps). Interestingly, it’s the descending piano chords and the plainness of the snare that grounds the song’s dreamier tendencies, and they consequently invite the listener inside its atmospheric space. And before you know it, the whole thing turns into a sea of glistening sounds. The War on Drugs frequently try to make ambient music but it’s never been as engrossing as this.

Joshua Copperman: With the exception of people like Billy Joel, my dad didn’t always listen to the lyrics closely when he heard music growing up; for example, “Sunglasses at Night” was not nearly as cool of a song as was first imagined. That Adam Granduciel covers his lyrics in increasing amounts of reverb seems to be a reflection of this — the instrumentation matters more than whatever he’s singing. TWoD is squarely Dad-rock, a genre sometimes deliberately hard to analyze because of how much it relies on emotion and vibes; it either resonates or it doesn’t. For me, this does! I love how gigantic this production feels, especially how the left tom always somewhat overwhelms the mix before going into the next section, successively managing to top itself with the use of echoes and and guitars. This all culminates in an initial solo at 3:44 (is this the solo everyone was talking about?), and then a full-on explosion at 4:29  (wait, nevermind, this is). It’s a stunning moment, where I understand what my dad felt when he listens to “Sunglasses,” “Point of Know Return,” and others.

Jonathan Bradley: As firefly-lit indie rock goes, I spent 2014 a bit disappointed that Future Islands’ “Seasons” never clicked for me. Maybe this War on Drugs song is what I’d been waiting for that year: a lonely slow-dance ballad that treads the boardwalk and the back country roads at the same time. Sure, I enjoy Born in the USA and Tunnel of Love enough to welcome something that falls in the space between, but the multi-tracked guitars parading the long latter half remind me of the glowing pleasures of the soft rock in their wake: Bryan Adams, perhaps, or, heck, Patty Smyth and Don Henley

Josh Love: I’ve eventually come around on lots of artists I originally despised or dismissed — Joanna Newsom, Drake, Angel Olsen — but I just don’t think it’s ever going to happen for me with this band. Still just sounds like taking the worst Dylan songs from the ’80s and playing them for twice as long.

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2 Responses to “The War on Drugs – Strangest Thing”

  1. Update: dad called it “slow and twangy” but “a bit of a power ballad but I get it”.

  2. Shout out to Papa Copperman

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