Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs reside at the blurred edges of American music: overexposing studio limitations, piling tape upon tape to maximum density, and then — with each song — they pull off the scaffolding to reveal what sticks, keeping only what’s absolutely necessary and dig into what sounds like the best kind of fucked up. As on their 2008 debut, Wagonwheel Blues, central member Adam Granduciel takes small moments occurring over multiple tapes and multiple song versions, and puts every last drop of trust in his own keen instinct of momentum.
That’s not to overshadow the sharp, personal songwriting at play here. There are certainly cues taken from our very best American bards (Dylan, Petty, Springsteen). Yet, The War on Drugs are wise enough to also implode those cues or send themselves into outer space when the moment calls for it. The driving organ riff that pushes “Baby Missiles,” from the band’s 2010 epic EP Future Weather, may well be inspired by a fever dream of Springsteen rather than any particular song in his catalogue. And the endless layers of guitar melody and atmospherics of “Comin’ Through,” also from Future Weather, rather than add weight to the vessel, only work to fill its sails with warmer and warmer winds.