The War On Drugs: Beautiful Noise
  • THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2011

  • Posted by: Joe Puglisi

Photo By Graham Tolbert

Somewhere in between miles of tape and feet upon feet of wiring, distortion knobs and circuit boards, magic happens. Tracks are layered, noises synthesized, and somehow this song starts breathing, walking, talking. Ideas become sounds, and those malleable motifs get mangled, pummeled and electrified in more than just the literal sense. The War On Drugs' Adam Granduciel knows this process all too well, and the fruit of his labor, Slave Ambient, is undeniable proof of recording as art. Granduciel is a sorcerer, conjuring constructions of sound and walls of ambient carnage for his tidal wave of tunes, and it indeed washes over the ears like salt water and sun, both refreshing and eye-opening.

Granduciel is often mentioned in the same breath as Kurt Vile; another sonic smithy from the Philly scene. Most aficionados know Vile was in The War on Drugs way-back-when, but many wrongfully focus on the separation of the two when discussing their current doings. The pair collaborate often, and Granduciel still plays for Vile on tour. But it could be argued that Slave Ambient finally has Granduciel claiming the critical edge on his comrade's solo exploits; it's a triumph of rock swagger and propulsive hooks, surrounded by beautiful distortion—noise porn to say the least.

"Beautiful" is a word Granduciel uses repeatedly when discussing the strenuous recording process, mostly for the lush, layered final product. "Each song has its own little gem", he brags, but he's right—there is something special brewing on every track. The songs started everywhere from guitar riffs to simply messing around with a tape machine. "I didn't know what kind of songs they'd be. I knew it would be different, but I wanted it to end up being what it is... each song kind of strong, with its own personality." Mission accomplished.

Exploration and experimentation is the key to Slave Ambient's most notable moments, born of chance encounters and unexpected manipulations of sound. "Random things happen [when recording] that you can't write and you can't control, they just happen." The process has Granduciel wishing he could do an interview with a recording/gear-centric magazine, just to talk about the myriad of sounds he explored while creating the album.

The success of Slave Ambient is bound to open some doors for The War On Drugs. The "songs are meant for big places", and larger crowds mean a larger room for Ambient's bangers to echo about. Good thing Granduciel and his band own one of the opening spots during The National's monstrous seven-night run on The Beacon Theater this December (they kick it off on Monday, 12/12). Although the songs are near impossible to recreate exactly, Granduciel has had fun with his live band, attempting to create the walls of sound and creating "something different" every night. The next step is a full-time TWOD sound guy, whose role will be so key to the band that Granduciel calls it "the fifth member of the band."

The sound is very complex, but it's all a labor of love and an attention to even the most minute details. A good example of this is the track "Your Love Is Calling My Name", a standout six-minute rocketship of a song that could also be taken as a microcosm of the album as a whole. Granduciel went into detail on the creation of the song, the recording "went through so many changes", and not just on tape; "different arrangements, melody lines" and more. He offered some insight into the unique tones as well, the "flubbery sound" is "like six guitars processed through stereo". And the final result of "What we arrived at was an awesome balance of awesome tones" Granduciel said.

Exactly as he wanted and worked for all throughout the process of creating Slave Ambient: "everything perfect."

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MP3: "Your Love Is Calling My Name"
Album Review: Slave Ambient





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