Since starting to work on Alternation on NE1.FM in the North East of England, I have been introduced to some fantastic bands. One of them is The War On Drugs who come from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the USA. Formed in 2005, the band's main stay is Adam Granduciel whilst past members include the very popular Kurt Vile who co-founded the band with Granduciel. This album is stated to focus on the loneliness and depression Granduciel faced after he finished touring the group's last album, it was also subject to many re-writes during the two year period. Now I am not going to say they are a band I have heard of before, or that it is something I have been aching to hear; however after they were played on Alternation by Barry (the main guy behind the show) I said it would be a band I would eventually check out. So, here was are about to hear a band that I have no real clue about.
Starting out with "Under The Pressure" this album opens with a sound that would not be out of place in the 80's rock mixed with modern indie pop song writing sensibilities. Whilst not being a short sharp hit single (the track is over eight minutes), it has a natural classic pop build up and will be fantastic when the band perform this live. Next is "Red Eyes" which has a classic Cure/Police/Big Country vibe about it, all mixed with 80's remixed New Order. I have to say that I cannot believe that this was wrote in the last year or so, as it sounds as if it was wrote over 20 years ago. It is timeless in emotion and it will be a classic track for the band in years to come. This is one of the tracks of 2014 already, along with choice cuts from Beck, Toxic Melons and Whores - it is that damm good. "Suffering" slows things down a notch or two, which brings the slow strumming guitars and harmonics out to play. Like Kurt Vile and Ariel Pink, these guys have the retro sound which is very popular at the moment. Also, they are in no hurry to get to the end of the song either. It is a wonder piece of laid back pop, which is equally as heart breaking as it is beautiful. You could have shaved a few minutes of the end, but this is just a personal thing.
"An Ocean In Between The Waves" starts like the beginning of an A-Ha song, it feels like subverted pop designed to place subtle hooks into the listener. But I would also like to point out at this point I am not hearing a great deal of variation to the album. Not quite at an Andrew W.K. level where it is the same songs each feckin' time, but it is very close. "Disappearing" is a lot better if the truth be told, much more relaxing and it reminds me of classic Chris Rea moments such as "On A Beach"; but it outstays the welcome for me a little bit, I found myself wondering each time I was listening to it and that is not a good sign. "Eyes Of The Wind" thought is a much needed improvement in direction for the album. Coming off as an offspring of the Waterboys and the all too brief union of McAlmont & Butler, this song has an ending which actually works for once compared to some of the other songs on this album.
"The Haunting Idle" is a beautiful piece of guitar instrumental that will have the Edge wondering if he copyrighted that guitar tone for his own, nice and it is short compared to the rest of the album (still clocking in at just over 3 minutes. This melts away into "Burning" which beings with the subtle feedback and slowly building keyboard. Then it gives away to a happier moment that sounds like Joy Division on uppers; it is such a straight feeling of familiarity whilst being completely new at the same time. After this and before the end we have to firstly pass through the title track of the album. With an alternative country beginning, you have a different vibe from the band here; they are looking towards that dangerous point for a band on the downtime. It is mellower than quite a lot of the album and it is also one of the stand out moments on here. Ending the album though is "In Reverse" which starts with a backwards effect on the guitar and does not kick in until the third minute and by that time I am starting to wonder if the song will ever end. It is really good when it gets there, but it sort of sums up this album quite well.
There is no denying that The War On Drugs are a really good band and can make an awesome tune when their mind focuses on it - I swear down "Red Eyes" is truly spectacular and check out the video at the bottom of this blog - but even if most songs lost a minute or two of each number it would not spoil them; quite the opposite in fact. It would improve the overall feel of the album as it is a little self indulgent in places and this makes what could have been a great record just a good one. It is a real shame though as there is a lot of potential here for what could have been an album of the year in some ways.
7 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check (but for me slightly frustrating)
Top Track - Red Eyes
You can purchase the album from Amazon here
You can visit the band's website here
You can listen to the album on Spotify here
Alternatively, for Deezer user's here is a link for you
Here is the official video for "Red Eyes"