Review : Black Keys - Brothers
PopmattersOver 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. Damn shame, that.
Still, there have been missteps. 2008’s Attack & Release saw the band smoothing out some of their rough edges. It wasn’t what you’d call overproduced in any traditional sense—no overblown orchestral interludes or anything like that—but Danger Mouse’s production brought a flat-affect retro vibe to the whole thing that made it sound like a harder-rocking collection of Gnarls Barkley backing tracks.
Thankfully, as the telegraphically back-to-basics cover art would suggest, Brothers finds Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney regaining some of the sweaty basement immediacy that characterized their best work. Rather than simply revisit their old records, however, they manage to balance the raw aesthetic of their earlier albums with a quest for new and interesting sounds. Take, for example, the distorted, echoing keyboards and snippets of female backing vocals lurking behind the pounding, skeletal groove of “Next Girl”. The basic track could be taken from The Big Come Up, but the arrangement details catapult it into newer territory. Some of those keyboard tones resurface on the menacing LA narrative “The Go-Getter”, which also explores some aggressive stereo separation....full text
PitchforkWhen 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. As for Auerbach's basically-a-Black-Keys-album solo effort, Keep It Hid: guy's gotta get it out of his system somehow.
New challenges, as well as time apart from their main outfit, have served these guys well. Brothers is the loosest they've sounded since 2004's Rubber Factory. The Keys haven't undergone a drastic sonic shift or anything-- at this point, no one is going to mistake them for anyone else, especially if they keep putting out songs like Brothers' first two singles, "Next Girl" and "Tighten Up". The former is boilerplate Black Keys, complete with a burned-barn riff for a chorus and lyrics about wayward women; the latter, the only Danger Mouse-produced cut on the record, features a whistle-heavy melody that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Attack & Release. But you don't come to the Black Keys for reinvention.
Instead, Brothers finds Carney and Auerbach augmenting their sound with some new stylistic tics, suggesting that they might've learned something from working with Danger Mouse. "Too Afraid to Love You" feels spooked-out thanks to Auerbach's distanced vocals and some haunted harpsichord, while the Jock Jams beat on "Howlin' For You" and "Black Mud"'s winking nod to CCR's "Green River" find the Keys in an uncharacteristically playful mode.
Most striking on Brothers is Auerbach's incorporation of falsetto. The man has honed his speaker-blowing howl for so long now, it's genuinely surprising to hear him try another vocal style. Even more surprising is how good he is at it, too: he's controlled and natural on "Everlasting Light", vibing with high-pitched restraint and turning the tune into a lo-fi T. Rex stomper, while on penultimate track and Jerry Butler cover "Never Gonna Give You Up", he lets loose over a shimmering Motown melody....full text
PrefixmagFor 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. Produced by guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, Brothers is the Keys’ tightest album since 2004’s Rubber Factory.
Being that the Black Keys’ sound begins with Junior Kimbrough’s skuzzy, raw take on the blues and ends with Credence Clearwater Revival, drawing lines between their catalog is an exercise in cutting the thinnest of hairs. The Keys have delivered some unimpeachable stretches on their albums (the first half of Rubber Factory, the first two-thirds of Thickfreakness, the middle third of The Big Come Up), but since Magic Potion the hit-to-OK ratio has diminished significantly. Brothers, at least through the country-western-on-acid howl of “The Only One,” doubles down on the Black Keys’ greatest strengths in a big way. There are the witchy women burners (“Next Girl,” “She’s Long Gone”), the dusty speaker exploders (“Tighten Up,” “Howlin’ For You”), all of which will surely crush festivalgoers in the near future.
The bulk of Brothers is clogged with the slower blues-ballads the band has padded its albums with since the jump (ironically, those songs hardly ever make it on the set list at the band’s concerts). Granted, those songs might put the Keys more firmly into the blues lineage they strive for, but for every Wall of Sound ditty like “Never Give You Up” there are a couple songs charging hard for treacle territory. But nothing here falls as flat as the similar songs on the band’s past two albums, particularly due to Auerbach’s improved vocal range. He is able to change his voice between delicate, bruised, ballsy and sweet, sometimes in the same song. ...full text
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