Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Black Keys :: Attack and Release

A collaboration between The Black Keys, low-fi indie rock enthusiasts, and Ike Turner, wife Tina, isn’t too off-matched. Throw electronic, hip hop, mash up ‘auteur’ Danger Mouse in as producer and it might be strange. This was the band’s plan before Ike Turner’s unexpected passing on December 12th last year. Although he isn’t on the new album, Turner’s presence lingers in the keys' rock and roll sound that he was influential in founding. The songs that the Keys wrote for Ike to hear ended up becoming the groundwork for their new record, with Danger Mouse still attached.

Fortunately, the album doesn’t sound like a faux-fi pop tragedy with techno tacked on. Instead, it is rock and roll with a dash of gospel coming through a fuzzy megaphone in space. Maybe that still sounds strange, but the music doesn’t. Strange isn’t the word for it anyway. The words are Attack and Release, the fifth album from The Black Keys.

The duo (do not insert White Stripes comparisons here) is Dan Auerbach on guitar and vocals and Patrick Carney on drums. Their previous four albums were all recorded in basements at the insistence of the band. Whether it was aesthetics or frugality, the results were raw and pure. For their second release on Nonesuch Records, the pair actually went into the studio. In order to keep the recording process as fundamental as possible, they did it at a studio called Suma in their home state of Ohio on a hand built console called ‘The Legacy.’

The sound of Attack and Release is much more diverse than the rudimentary rock of their previous albums. Their rock and roll fervor is lustily infiltrated by folk, psychedelic and electronic elements, but with careful subtlety. The banjo, a jazzy flute and a synthesizer are compliments of Ralph Carney, drummer Carney’s uncle, and the experimental guitar from Marc Ribot, both of whom played in Tom Wait’s band. The digital touches never take over the mix, but the mood of the album would be severely different without them. Minimalism wasn’t completely discarded and the songs still have a spacious and simple sound.

"All You Ever Wanted" feels like a slow, hot day in the south, with lyrics about black birds on telephone wires and flaming hearts. Throughout the album, Auerbach’s voice is mournful, but never depressing as he sings about the girl that done him wrong. It sets the tone, which is not so much dreary as melancholy, with a soulful, gospel like feel. The side A/side B versions for the two tracks of "Remember When" share a different imagining of the same song, a country slide lament and overdriven groove. The album ends with "Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be," Auerbach followed by the sweet and sincere voice of eighteen year old bluegrass and country singer Jessica Lea Mayfield.

So, if it is strange, whatever. As Auerbach echoes on the third track, "Strange times are here."

Mango Nebula favorite from this artist:
The Black Keys - Rubber Factory

~Lee Stepien
Published at WERS.org on June 05, 2008

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