Attack and Release – The Black Keys
Theres a cleansing feeling that comes about when the Black Keys gritty, grimy, volume-drenched rock soul blues hybrid singes through the speaker cabinets.
With four albums, the duo of Dan Auerbach, the wizened vocalist and slash-and-burn guitarist, and Patrick Carney, the power pulse on drums, proved their worth as a self-contained unit. Following a musical line that runs from acoustic blues artists of the early 20th century through the fiery gutbucket brand to the psychedelic world of Hendrix and minimalist rage that ran through R.L. Burnside and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the two brought nearly a centurys worth of styles to a new generation. But even Auerbach and Carney could see that the lo-fi approach was going to box them into a corner of their own making. And the music didnt deserve to be relegated to only a cultish affection. So, they took their gear and, unlike previous efforts that found them laying down tracks in places such as an abandoned rubber factory, they moved it a few miles north of their Akron, Ohio hometown to Suma Recording Studio where the vintage equipment allows them to take baby steps away from their overall sonic aesthetic.
What makes all the difference on Attack and Release is the members attitudes to the making of this record. Produced by Danger Mouse — one half of Gnarls Barkley, collaborator on Gorillaz, creator of The Grey Album — along with the Keys willingness to tread new territory, we get an album builds upon the past and confidently embraces the future. Danger Mouse, who also plays a variety of instruments here, expands the groups sound without losing its sense of identity. Guest musicians such as Tom Waits alumni Marc Ribot and Ralph Carney (Patricks uncle) make subtle yet effective impact, while Jessica Lea Mayfields vocals on the aching ballad Things Aint Like They Supposed To Be add emotional depth.A major taste of the new, improved model comes on the opening track, All You Ever Wanted. At just under three minutes, it moves from a sleepy haze of acoustic blues to a supreme blast of guitar, drums and organ before its final note hangs on to the burning embers. I Got Mine runs into classic Black Keys territory but a harmony vocal bridge presents a nice surprise, while Strange Times should just keep the ol faithful with a rush of Auerbach/Carney rock n blues that when played live should wipe the smile off your face and leave you slackjawed. Same Old Thing runs through familiar blue rock territory but Carneys flute contribution reminds us the Goodyear plant closed and we have to move on. The only major difference is that the productions sound is much cleaner than in the past. For those who are worried that it will take away a major component of the Keys personality, fear not. Its leagues removed from the slick production values found on a David Foster produced album for Celine Dion or any other contemporary pop artist. It just means that the recording levels didnt bleed into the red on a constant basis. You get that same sensation during Remember When (Side B), the livelier answer to the drum machine driven, watery blues on Remember When (Side A). Im reminded throughout Attack and Release that with small tweaks to its core the Black Keys make that rare move of commercial viability while maintaining their integrity. Most walk that tightrope and crash to the pavement. Not these two.