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CD REVIEW: The War On Drugs' Slave Ambient 

Secretly Canadian; Release date: Aug. 16, 2011

THE DEAL: Hyped Philly act draws comparisons it hasn't earned.

THE GOOD: Ever since their intriguing debut full-length, Wagonwheel Blues, there's been a movement to anoint this Philly band and its songwriter Adam Granduciel the Next Great American Artiste. Within the WoD cult, a trio of legends appear as touchstones with disconcerting frequency. Granduciel's pinched vocals may suggest Tom Petty, but he lacks Petty's ease with a hook; WoD songs are all texture and pulse. The Bob Dylan links stem from Granduciel's word-torrents, but it's hard imagining Dylan penning anything as self-absorbed and pedestrian as "wondering where my friends are going / and wondering why they didn't take me." As for the third legend, WoD narratives may be road-friendly, but they lack the dramatic flair of Bruce Springsteen's seminal-era songwriting; if The Boss was trapped but hell-bent on getting out of town, Granduciel's just tooling around aimlessly ... kinda like his songs. What WoD do have going for them is that they sound great texturally. But a formula quickly emerges: apply loads of shoegaze flange to shuffling Americana, goose the tempo now and then via those metronomic wet-snares (conjuring '80s one-note act Big Country), coat everything in keys and synths, let Granduciel whinge semi-cryptically, fade one track into the next, rinse and repeat. It's not horrible, just blatantly one-dimensional. All this WoD adulation is just wishful thinking; in an increasingly net-splintered and derivative post-this and neo-that music landscape, rock fans crave an artist who has something to say and says it well. Neither really applies here.

THE BAD: See above.


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