Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney built the music of The Black Keys on Carney’s pulsing drum beats and Auerbach’s swampy guitar chords, occasional keyboards sidebars, and aching falsetto vocals. Their sound was blunt force rock bubbling over an underground brook of rhythm and blues. After taking time off to record solo albums the duo reteam for an album that coaxes the R&B aspects of the band into a more central position.
Auerbach and Carney have become synonymous with Akron, their hard scrabble, rust belt town. Their rock has often been as dirty sounding as the empty industrial feel of much of their hometown. Reverb-soaked vocals, fuzzy guitars and thumping drums dominated the mix of their first 5 albums. Brothers, the 6th release, also features these characteristics but reveals a more distinctly southern feel. Keyboards that are usually buried in the mix step to the forefront as on “The Only One.” Harpsichord – yes harpsichord – offers a classical contrast to the band’s heavy rhythms and distorted vocals on “Too Afraid To Love You.” The album’s first single, “Tighten Up,”clearly exposes the influence of it’s producer, Danger Mouse. His happy whistling introduction announces The Black Key’s broadening base of genre influences.
Never in doubt is The Black Keys ‘70s rock influences; “Everlasting Light” sounds like a lost track from T Rex, while “Howlin’ For You” sounds like one of those songs that are blasting into a sports stadium between play, you know the type that everyone can foot-pounds to. One of the album’s best track, “Next Girl” is a break up lament with clever lyrics. Speaking of which, lyrics are not the strength on this album. Keep your focus on the music and Auerbach’s vocals which, by the way, continue to evolve. This guy and sing falsetto as well as anyone and that includes Jim James. Tchad Blake, who has produced the work of Los Lobos, Pearl Jam, and Suzanne Vega, does a nice job highlight the band’s best aspects without tinkering with their signature presentation.
Both Auerbach and Carney took time away from The Black Keys to record solo albums. They come back together sounding invigorated, ready to preserve their grungy rock side but also showing the willingness to expand their base by exploring other musical elements that have been percolating in the stew.