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Concert Review – Sharon Van Etten and The War On Drugs – March 20 2012 Hollywood, CA

A few days back, I went to see Sharon Van Etten and The War On Drugs concert at the Avalon in Hollywood. A strange combo! But I am a fan of both, and was excited.

The War On Drugs, who put out one of my favorite albums last year, opened. I saw them headline five months ago at a smaller venue, which was fun. But I think their sound fit this slightly bigger venue a little better. But their momentum, tight on record, is given more expanse on the stage. More specifically, that means a bit more jamming, longer ambient build-ups, phatter bass.

To be honest, I cannot decide if their groove is derivative, or unique. A fine line, I guess! In the end, it does not matter. But original or not, I really enjoyed their noisy, groovy set, once again. And if they come back again in five months… I’m sure I’ll enjoy it then too. Here’s a song from the excellent Slave Ambient:

The War On Drugs “Brothers”

Sharon Van Etten, who, on the other hand, I last saw at a MUCH bigger venue (opening for The National), was impressive as well. She has a somewhat goofy, self-deprecatory stage presence, which was a little surprising considering sad, emotional songs make up the core of her catalog. Fortunately, this presence does not get in the way of the songs. She can switch focus and deliver a jaw-dropping performance like it ain’t no thing, even after awkwardly talking to the person in the front row (PS. we in the back had no idea what you were saying). Musically, I enjoyed her ability to pull off some of her slower, more drone-like pieces; and her band was also skilled enough to jump on faster ones too.

I did find myself wishing for a couple of songs where she just played acoustic guitar alone. Her first demo recordings are basically just that, and are so beautiful. But the new stuff has opened her up to a much wider palette, and for someone with such a great voice and such great songs, that’s nothing but a good thing.

Sharon Van Etten “Love More”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2011 – #6. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient

Slave Ambient

lead me back to the place I'm from past the farms and the debris

I have read a number of reviews and commentaries around the internetz about Slave Ambient. While I kind of find myself disagreeing with a lot of the comparisons (Dylan, what?), many refer to the uplifting sound of their traditional American rock roots. They are clearly meant for a long car ride, turned up loud, sunset behind you. The reviews often leave it at that, though, and not The War On Drugs’ unique stylings.

Personally, I am not sure that traditional American rock is the right description for The War On Drugs. They are definitely closer to shoegaze, the proud genre of loud guitars and mumbled lyrics. The War On Drugs bring some different themes to shoegaze; instead of gazing at their shoes, they seem to be gazing at the open road. (Roadgaze?) A lot of their lyrics are blurry, but certain words jump out – harbors, freeways, rambling, trains, rattling in my brain, farms, debris, Northeast. There’s definitely some sort of world-weariness to the songs, that comes across in the words, the music, and the vocals. He’s just trying to get home, or somewhere. “There is a train we take downtown that buckles and bends from the weight of the ground,” Adam Granduciel sings, “You’ll understand when I leave so suddenly with breeze.”

Despite that weariness though, The War On Drugs have a quite uplifting sound. I think of it in terms of a Woody Guthrie, who also wrote tired-of-the-world songs that lifted you up. But The War On Drugs do it impressively without any choruses. Instead they hook you with the big chord changes, well-timed woohoos!, hypnotic bright drums.

And they make amazing use of the ambient instrumental tracks in between songs. While these tracks do add space between some of the more similarly-paced songs on the album, they also drive the whole thing. “Come To The City,” for instance, is a memorable song, but made even more so by “The Animator,” a 2-minute intro drone that brings “The City” to life. These ambient pieces, I assume, give the album its name, but more importantly make Slave Ambient cohere.

While The War On Drugs are ranked #6 here on my list, the actual ordering is not that precious. I’ve only listened to a couple of albums more often than this one this year. While “number of listens” is not my main criteria in ranking these, it does indicate that, man, Slave Ambient is something special.

The War On Drugs “Baby Missiles”

The War On Drugs “Your Love Is Calling My Name”

- almostaghost

AlmostAGhost’s Best Albums Of 2010 – #20. Tobacco – Maniac Meat

constellation dirtbike head

TV All Greasy

#20. Tobacco – Maniac Meat

I’m not sure what this means about me, but I think Tobacco’s Maniac Meat is one sexy album. The keyboards and grooves and vocals saying stuff like “I ate all your watermelon” are totally seductive! There’s soul in this trippy electronic album, that’s for sure. Now, I’m not a big electronica fan, a lot of it bores me. But what I like about Tobacco (and his main project Black Moth Super Rainbow) is this soul buried in among the psychedelia. The beats and drama make the music feel quite natural. And on top of it, Tobacco is an amazing producer, the entire sound of this record is superb.

Tobacco’s song and moments and lyrics can go from utterly silly to menacing like it’s the most normal thing in the world. For instance, the lyrics on “Heavy Makeup” include “you get sick from a lolli lolli lollipop / you feel free when you’re killing me.” All the vocal effects mask what are some minimal yet entertaining lyrics. He even gets Beck to play along, and he writes a fantastic couple of verses for “Fresh Hex” (and blends right into “Grape Aerosmith”). The music can match, as on the best tracks, Tobacco goes from huge chords to funny little melodies, sunny synthesizers to metal guitar, all back and forth. Maniac Meat rides the remarkably thin line between goofy and evil, and is massively entertaining. It’s also a tad insane, and one of the best albums of the year.

Tobacco – Fresh Hex (feat. Beck)

Tobacco – Heavy Makeup

- almostaghost