Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Black Keys - Attack and Release: The brilliance continues...

Today, The Black Keys released their fifth album (Attack and Release), and like their previous four, it is simply brilliant! It's been well publicized that this one would have a few more production tricks thrown into it courtesy of Danger Mouse (a point of contention with some long-time fans), but with the exception of one added element (which I'll mention later) I personally think the added production values have only enhanced their already brilliant sound.

For those of you who don't know anything about The Black Keys (and if not, shame on you for depriving your ears of such sonic delights...damn, did I really just use the term "sonic delights"?...minus 10pts to me) they are a 2-man band consisting of Dan Auerbach on vocals and guitar, and Patrick Carney on drums. Hard rockin', heart-breakin' blues is their game...and they are the current champs in my opinion.

I would give anything to have a 1/4 of Dan's vocal and guitar talents; and there are probably many more, who actually play music for a living, who would give much more for even a 1/10th or less. Dan has a classic blues voice which shines incredibly bright on the slow, dark, heavy-hearted tunes; but it can also howl like a wolf with a blood-soaked mouth on all the rockers. Patrick's drum beats are Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker-esque with a funky rat-a-tat-tat when needed, guided by an ever-present heavy-footed kick drum. It's good stuff, folks.

Well, after first listen, I'm not sure quite where to rank Attack and Release in relation to the other four, but that doesn't mean I'm disappointed in it (just the opposite actually). It's just that, all four of their other albums are so damn good from beginning to end, that my favorite changes with my mood. Although, their third album (Rubber Factory) is one of the best albums released by any band this decade.

There's definitely more polish on this album than the others (though their last album, Magic Potion, was not exactly rough around the edges, production wise) but the classic Black Keys "sound" is all there - just spiced up a bit. I love the haunting chorus vocals featured in "I Got Mine", "Psychotic Girl" and "Lies". The banjo riff throughout "Psychotic Girl" was a welcome surprise. The whole trippy, hillbilly sound on "Remember When (Side A)" was visionary (I'll explain later). Again, as mentioned earlier, there was really only one addition that was a subtraction, and I'll also get to that in a moment.

1. All You Ever Wanted: Nice, simple, bluesy number to get things started, but you can hear the extra production value right away. You really hear it near the end when the organ kicks in. Dark, somber lyrics sung perfectly...as always.
Rating: Brilliant!

2. I Got Mine: Aw yeah! This song kicks ass! Classic rocker through and through, and at the half-way point, the song is elevated to cool, new heights with the spooky vocal harmonies and backward guitar sound. More of this, please! I would say, my 2nd-favorite song on the album.
Rating: Brilliant!!

3. Strange Times: Their current single, is oddly enough, nowhere near the best song on the album. Don't get me wrong, it's a good solid rocker, again with a touch of the spooky vocal harmonies at times, but it sounds a bit...like your typical single. Soooo, I guess that makes sense then.
Rating: Excellent

4. Psychotic Girl: From the opening banjo riff (yeah, BANJO riff) and cool drum beat, you can tell your ears are in for something special. More haunting harmonies blend in with a mix that is eclectic, but tasty. This song is...just...cool.
Rating: Brilliant!

5. Lies: My favorite song, not just on this album, but it is right there with Rubber Factory's "Stack Shot Billy", Thickfreakness' "Hold Me in Your Arms", and Magic Potion's "Just a Little Heat" as my all-time Black Keys favorite. Lyrics are top-notch; the ever-present spooky vocal harmonies are especially haunting and dark; and the lead vocals actually make your heart hurt, they're so expressively good. If you don't have a "tear in your beer" when you start listening to this song, you may just have one by the end.
Rating: Brilliant!!!!!!

6. Remember When (Side A): If this song were a painting it would look like the following: In the center, there would be an old, run down shack. On that shack's front porch would be an old, hand-made rocking chair barely supporting an old hillbilly, with hat covering face, half-slumped over with one arm hanging over the side, with an almost-empty jug of moonshine hanging from his finger. The shack in the middle would not be surrounded by green grass and blue sky, but rather, a psychedelic mish-mash of seizure-inducing color. Yeah, this song is trippy.
Rating: Brilliant!

7. Remember When (Side B): The psychedelic trippiness of "Side A" gives way to a Zeppelin-esque rocker, circa Houses of the Holy, for this "Side B".
Rating: Excellent

8. Same Old Thing: Ok, here's my one gripe. The addition that should have been a subtraction. This song starts and ends with...*gulp*...(I almost threw up a little)...JAZZ FLUTE! Nooooooooo! Ok, sure, I enjoyed Ron Burgundy's jazzy flute skills in Anchorman as much as the next guy, but there's no place for jazz flute in real rock or blues - and I don't care what Jethro Tull says! That grievous error aside, this song still brings it with a heavy, rockin' sound. Please, Black Keys, don't let the jazz flute rear it's uncool, peter piper, flaccidness in any of your songs again. It is the anti-Viagra of rock.
Rating: Excellent

9. So He Won't Break: Not much I can say about this song, except that it just has a cool, lounging-on-a-sunny-Saturday-afternoon-by-the-pool-with-a-cocktail type of sound. It kind of reminds of a Guess Who song...and that's not a bad thing at all.
Rating: Great

10. Oceans and Streams: I could see Sheryl Crow doing a song like this...it just sounds like one of her songs. Again, that's not necessarily a bad thing - I like a lot of her songs. There's also some nice slide-guitar work on this one (I can never get enough of that bottleneck slide-guitar sound no matter how heavy or subtle). Something tells me this one may be another single from the album.
Rating: Great

11. Things Ain't Like They Used to Be: You'll have to fight the urge to start singing The Beatles' "Don't Let Me Down" throughout this song - they both sound quite similar. This one features the added vocals of Jessica Lee Mayfield to add a little pizazz (and with the use of that word, I think I'm done here).
Rating: Excellent

All in all, another gem from the Akron, Ohio, duo. Keep on truckin' fellas - your tunes feed my ears and soothe my soul.