There's plenty time left in 2008, but Philadelphia's The War on Drugs' Wagonwheel Blues will most certainly go down as one of the year's most exciting debuts. 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 Dylanesque loose blues romp, while "Taking the Farm" channels the Boss over locomotive percussion and droning keyboards.
Many of these songs were recorded at various points over the past few years—impressive, seeing that Wagonwheel Blues feels unified, the product of dingy, beer-stained American rock tradition and progressive experimentation.