Slave Ambient would already be an unqualified success simply because it features one of the most distinctive sounding bands in recent memory pulling off their songs with confidence far beyond their years. That it is also one of the year's best albums further cements the sense that The War On Drugs have achieved something truly great here. This is a record with a sense of expanse and emotional resonance, but in a way opposite to similarly expansive/emotional albums like Modest Mouse's The Moon & Antarctica or The Arcade Fire's The Suburbs. Where those records are exhausting and draining, akin to a therapy session or intense drug experience, Slave Ambient is like a couple hours spent in a coffee shop catching up with an ex-girlfriend and putting the past to rest. You leave this album feeling rejuvenated, and that is something worth celebrating.
It's worth emphasizing, too, that this is indeed an album and not a ramshackle collection of songs. The instrumental interludes, sometimes separated onto distinct tracks like 'The Animator' and 'City Reprise #12', give the album a flow and sprawl that make it feel performed instead of recorded. To be sure, individual songs work well on their own, too. 'Baby Missiles' genuinely sounds like 'Walk Of Life' by the Dire Straits sped up a bit and filtered through some chemicals, while six minute album centerpiece 'Your Love Is Calling My Name' is like a sampler platter of everything this band does and does well.
Still, to paraphrase the old saying, it's the journey that matters and not the stops along the way. Slave Ambient is most impressive when taken in all at once because it manages to sprawl and yet to be consistent; it manages to be spacey and weird yet anthemic and immediate. This is an album's album: Slave Ambient is one of the most complete and satisfying releases of 2011. Like many of the best albums of this year, it's the sound of a band coming into their own, delivering their first great record.
Emphasis on the “first.”
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5