This was the year the War on Drugs won. Not only did the Philadelphia band fulfil the promise of their debut Wagonwheel Blues, but their former guitarist Kurt Vile scored with his own excellent album, Smoke Ring for my Halo. Slave Ambient makes a triumph of the unlikely premise that US heartland rock and Krautrock would mix like old friends – it is the sound, if you like, of the Neu! Street Band. Your Love Is Calling My Name hints at rockabilly, with Adam Granduciel muttering about freeways and harbours, yet the unrelenting drum pattern, the swirling synths, the shimmers of guitar somehow remove it from the US rock tradition even as it fights to return home. The most explicitly classic rock song is Baby Missiles, which – with its Danny Federici-style organs and hollers of "woo woo" – sounds like a demo for Born in the USA. It's probably not chance that its predecessor, City Reprise #12, takes a wildly different path, a huge soundscape that takes a simple keyboard melody line and repeats it: the sound not of the open motorway of the Motorik beat, but the ringroads and bypasses of the city driver. A wonderful record.
The War on Drugs: Slave Ambient – review
Michael Hann is a freelance writer, and former music editor of the Guardian