So it could be that all I’m really looking for, week to week to week, is command. Command is a potent buzzword in 21st-century baseball; they’re always talking about a pitcher’s command—does he have his command, has he lost his command, can we measure his command, and on and on. Turns out command is crucial in music too, if rather more ineffable. There’s nothing equivalent here to a pitch’s accuracy and movement and velocity. Command in music is a vibe thing, an alluring kind of presence; consider it, if you would, an alchemical marriage between spontaneity and inevitability. A band with command plays as if they’re making it up as they go even as they seem to be heading somewhere preordained.
“Come to the City” is the sound of a band with command. Emerging from a blur of awakening keyboards, driven by a dogged drumbeat, “Come to the City” feels at once drained and determined, the sound of a second wind, of someone or something past a breaking point but not broken. The melody, a repeated descent, plays over the rumbly, hazy soundscape; the chorus is little more than a subtle upward gesture. Front man Adam Granduciel nearly buries his buzzy voice in a swirl of reverb yet still sounds sharp and unalloyed and full of personality. I can picture him tilting upward at the microphone, making rapture faces, without even knowing what he looks like.
The War on Drugs was founded in Philadelphia in 2005 by Granduciel and Kurt Vile, who had played together for two years prior to that as well. A quintet at the time of the band’s mid-2008 full-length debut, Wagonwheel Blues, by year’s end just Granduciel and bassist Dave Hartley remained, as Vile set off on a solo career and two others also left. Now with drummer Mike Zanghi, the band is a trio, or maybe a quartet, depending on which bio you heed. “Come to the City” is a track from this incarnation’s first full-length release, Slave Ambient, which came out this week on Secretly Canadian. MP3 via Secretly Canadian.