Retreating from the hazy Danger Mouse-fueled pot dream of Attack & Release, the Black Keys headed down to the legendary Muscle Shoals, recording their third album on their own and dubbing it Brothers. The studio, not to mention the artwork patterned after such disregarded Chess psychedelic-era relics as This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album, are good indications that the tough blues band of the Black Keys earliest records is back, but the group hasn’t forgotten what they’ve learned in their inwardly psychedelic mid-period. Brothers still can get mighty trippy -- the swirling chintzy organ that circles “The Only One,” the Baroque harpsichord flair of “Too Afraid to Love You” -- but the album is built with blood and dirt, so its wilder moments remain gritty without being earthbound.
In its best moments, the Black Keys’s Brothers is as ferocious and soulful an exploration of contemporary blues as anything in recent memory. It’s also a record that speaks to the duo’s fearlessness, and, at least on initial impression, it suggests that they have moved beyond their “transitional” phase with a new clarity of purpose. For an act as accomplished and progressive as the Keys, that kind of focus and vision makes Brothers one of 2010’s strongest albums.
Between recent collaborations with Danger Mouse, Dan Auerbach's solo album, Patrick Carney's Drummer side band and the hip-hop Blakroc project, it seemed like the Black Keys had lost interest in minimalist guitar/drum blues rock. Evidently not. Brothers finds the duo returning to their signature sound, albeit a much smoother, groovier version. [rssbreak] The band continues to find new ways to expand within rigid, self-imposed parameters.
When it comes to playing the blues, naming an album Thickfreakness and releasing a Junior Kimbrough cover record isn’t going to save you from the glaring eye of critics still looking to tear down the Jon Spencers. And you certainly can’t play it too straight, lest you come off like some type of John Mayer, taking time off from your pop career to smear Stevie Ray Vaughan licks for the type of old dudes who still buy CDs. Akron, Ohio’s The Black Keys have dealt with the conundrum admirably, howling a mean kind of blues by way of garage rock, never getting too slick, and, most importantly, writing good songs.
In the blues-rock revivalism racket, the Black Keys have consistently been cast as Jan to the White Stripes’ Marcia — disciples of the same two-member garage-boogie grit, only darker, sludgier, more elemental. Six albums in, the Akron, Ohio, duo’s backwoods-Zeppelin shtick remains paramount, but on Brothers, there’s a new kind of shrewdness, too: real songwriting, and real hooks, beneath all that mondo riffage. B+ Download These:Danger Mouse-produced jangler Tighten Up at amazon.comChugging lament Next Girl at amazon.com See all of this week’s reviews .
When it was announced that Danger Mouse would be working with the Black Keys on their 2008 album, Attack & Release, it seemed like a fresh start for a band that had run out of ideas. While DM indeed brought some psychedelic side dishes to Dan Auerbach and Pat Carney's meat-and-potatoes blues-rock table-- a little pan flute here, some spaghetti Western guitar licks there-- Attack & Release had its share of samey-sounding midtempo cuts, suggesting that the duo were content to write variations on the same theme. Subsequent side projects (both worked in Damon Dash's not-disastrous rap-rock experiment Blakroc, and Carney formed Drummer) suggested that they probably felt this creative stagnation, too.
For four albums, the Black Keys’ sound was as obvious as the cover for their sixth album, Brothers: “This is an album by the Black Keys. The name of this album is Brothers.” So even after they took a (slight) left turn on 2008’s Attack & Release via a production team-up with the genre-bending Danger Mouse, even casual listeners had to know that the Keys would beat a hasty retreat to the environs of their skeletal blues-fuzz. Apart from lead single “Tighten Up,” the lone holdover from the now ceased Danger Mouse collaboration, the Keys do just that on Brothers.
After four albums of fuzzed-up garage-blues, in 2008 it suddenly seemed as if The Black Keys didn’t want to be The Black Keys any more. First of all they roped in Dangermouse to produce their Attack & Release album; that still basically sounded like its predecessors with some extra production flourishes, so they went back to the drawing board. A solo album was the next port of call, with songwriter, singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach deciding that an album of him singing and playing his own songs would be a change in direction.
Over the last decade, the Black Keys have quietly revealed themselves to be an incredibly consistent workhorse band. They’ve produced two classic albums (2003’s Thickfreakness and 2004’s Rubber Factory), and really nothing they’ve done has fallen below “pretty good”. Yet, despite this track record (along with well-received side projects like guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach’s solo album Keep It Hid or the rap/blues collaboration Blackroc), you rarely see the Black Keys advanced as one of the new classics or guiding lights of modern music.
There’s a fine line between consistency and complacency. Black Keys fans and critics alike know this all too well. For eight years now, the Akron duo has refused to stroll far beyond their little self-sustaining ecosystem of modernized blues. They are almost obsessive in their steadiness. Some ….
Music shines, lyrics whine Yes, Danger Mouse produced a track (“Tighten Up”) for this blues-rock duo on its sixth album. But the name to note in the credits is mixer Tchad Blake, who gives the songs a swampy texture that nevertheless carves out individual space for each instrument. Guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney swing more loosely than usual, too, particularly on the Bo Diddley-gone-glam stomp “Howlin’ For You.” “The Only One” incorporates droning organ chords to nice effect.
The prolific Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney's sixth studio album's artwork is tremendous – nothing but text on a black background, which reads: "This is an album by the Black Keys. The name of the album is Brothers." It looks like a special edition Quentin Tarantino DVD, which, fittingly, songs like the sturm-und-drang blues of Next Girl ("She'll be nothing like my ex-girl") sound like they ought to soundtrack. Having branched out into a Damon Dash-orchestrated hip-hop collaboration with RZA, Mos Def and others on last year's Blakroc, the Ohioans now head back to the bluesy fuzz we know them for, with the slidin'-and-a-jammin' energy of tracks such as Howlin' for You and Ever Lasting Light.
You wouldn’t be mistaken when referring to The Black Keys as one of rock’s most consistent bands. For six albums now, the Ohio-based duo has quietly created a discography that consists of some of the best blues-rock of the new century. After a quartet of albums that showcased solid and steady hands on deck, the Keys opted to have Danger Mouse (Brian Burton) produce the pair’s fifth album, Attack & Release.
Pleasingly diverse and diverting, with barely a duff track. Jon Lusk 2010 This über-hip alt-blues/rock duo from Ohio has packed a lot into the decade they’ve spent together. Their songs have cropped up in an impressive array of recent film, video game and TV soundtracks, and apart from several side projects, Brothers is their sixth full-length album.
Jack White betrayed his Achilles' heel in the White Stripes' tour documentary Under Great White Northern Lights: an innate need for harsh restrictions in creation. For the Dead Weather, that constraint is time – or a lack thereof. The quartet's timid 2009 debut, Horehound, was recorded in three weeks, and Sea of Cowards follows less than a year later.