We're only halfway through 2008, but Philadelphia's The War on Drugs claims one of this year's most exciting debuts. On Wagonwheel Blues, songwriter Adam Granduciel precisely fuses together the best elements of rollicking folk and classic rock with experimental ambience and post-punk deconstruction. The disc coalesces shades of Dylan, Springsteen, Sonic Youth, and the Velvet Underground into a uniquely visceral musical reverie.
Several swirling instrumental moments pepper the album's 45 minutes, conveying the record's intricacies and emotional resonance. But Granduciel's road-trip narratives, buoyed by textured arrangements rooted in harmonica, organ, and layers of guitars, are the driving force. Opening track "Arms Like Boulders" is a Dylan-esque loose blues romp, while on "Taking the Farm," Granduciel channels the Boss over locomotive percussion and droning keyboards. Daydream Nation atmospherics wash throughout "There Is No Urgency," Granduciel's reedy, trembling voice warning, "There's trouble down here, there's trouble down there, there's trouble everywhere." Trouble never sounded so inviting.
Though The War on Drugs seemingly came out of nowhere, many of these songs were recorded at various points over the last few years. Nevertheless, Wagonwheel Blues feels unified, the product of dingy, beer-stained American rock tradition and progressive experimentation.