BEST OF 2011: 19. The War On Drugs– Slave Ambient

Secretly Canadian is, a little like Bella Union, one of those labels where you could leave them your bank details for a direct debit which would ensure that you get everything they release, safe in the knowledge you’d be receiving some excellent records. Most notably, they’re the home for the staggering talent of Jason Molina in his various guises, but they’ve also released gems from Jens Lekman, Richard Swift and Suuns. The mere presence of the label’s name on a sleeve is enough to grab my interest, although in this case the rather beautiful sleeve could probably do the job on its own. Which it might have done, had we not all been primed by the hints-of-greatness 2008 album, ‘Wagonwheel Blues’ and last year’s tantalising EP, ‘Future Weather’.

wod11

Slave Ambient’ is, in part, finely honed Americana: a smooth listen with chiming guitars and gently layered synths combining in softly affecting fashion. Which is not to say you’ll be hearing it on Heart FM anytime soon, more that if you’re a Springsteen fan who has a bit of time for a little spaced-out indie then you’ll be on safe ground here. There’s something of an electronic haze hovering all over this which slowly becomes one of the album’s more endearing production aspects. The hypnotic flow of the ambient sounds conjures a Jason Pierce who’s had his Weetabix.

Much has been made of the departure of band member Kurt Vile, whose own splendid solo offering appeared this year (‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’ – close to being in this list), and his role in a lot of the excellent interplay of the guitars on the debut with Dave Hartley, who still remains. While his solo work is understated acoustic splendour, his former band have gone on to create something altogether more grand, perhaps best captured by two tracks in the second half of the album.

Firstly, the elegant electronica of ‘City Reprise #12’ is a surprisingly relaxed piece after the frenetic road trip roar of what has come before, but this is swiftly followed by ‘Baby Missiles’, with its frantically strummed guitars, roaring harmonica and thumping drums. It’s essentially Springsteen with the shoegaze filter switched on. Which works ridiculously well. Turn up both of these tracks and let them wash over you. You’ll find that, for a record with so much electronic noodling going on, there is an old-fashioned analogue warmth to it all. ‘Slave Ambient’ is a gorgeous album which is a lot less simple and effortless than it may at first seem.

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