You often hear the word “Americana” thrown around when music shows the influence of blues, folk, country, and old-time rock ’n’ roll. Those are all great ingredients, but why stop there? Why is jazz not “Americana”? Why isn’t hip-hop or hardcore punk? In the song “American Music,” the Violent Femmes sang, “Every time I look at that ugly lake, it reminds me of me.” That’s what Americana should be — something that reminds us of ourselves, even if it is sometimes ugly.
The War on Drugs combines country-ish guitars and freight-train rhythms with atmospheric indie-rock weirdness. The band came together in Philadelphia about six years ago after Oakland resident Adam Granduciel moved to the East Coast and met another songwriter named Kurt Vile. The two reportedly bonded over a shared love of Bob Dylan, whose influence shows up primarily in their often-cynical lyrics and their shared habit of sneering through their vocals. After Vile left for a rewarding solo career in 2008, Granduciel began playing up the electronics and hazy effects in his music.
Today, critics twist themselves in knots trying to decide whether the War on Drugs sounds more like Bruce Springsteen or the Velvet Underground. It doesn’t much resemble either one. Nor does it sound a lot like Wilco, a band that works with similar influences. The War on Drugs just sounds like the work of someone re-creating American music in his own image, and doing it in a way that’s graceful.
Purling Hiss and Carter Tanton also perform.
THE WAR ON DRUGS: Soda Bar, Friday, October 21, 8:30 p.m. 619-255-7224. $8–$10.