Review Summary: The Keys grow up and recored an amazing album
When you think of a two piece band, with no bass player, playing high energy, raw, bluesy southern rock soul music, I have to believe the band that comes to mind is The White Stripes. Both The White Stripes and The Black Keys have that similar formula of lo-fi arrangements, thick, crunchy guitar riffs, distorted vocals and smooth beats. Both bands create amazing music, but comparisons aside, The Black Keys are just plain better than their mid-west counter part.
From their debut album, The Big Come Up in 2002, this Akron, Ohio duo has been punishing ear drums with their infectious blend of the blues, southern rock, funk, and soul music, striped to the bone and turned up to 11. While many bands with the minimalist sound are somewhat low key, The Black Keys are most definitely not. Since The Big Come Up, the band has released three other albums, including 2003's Thickfreakness, which was recorded in 12-hour session in drummer Patrick Carney's basement; 2004's Rubber Factory, recorded in an old tire factory converted to a recording studio; and 2006's Magic Potion, the bands heaviest, grittiest, and most powerfully stripped-down album to date.
Enter 2008's Attack & Release, which was originally set to be a collaboration with Ike Turner of all people. Super producer Brian “Danger Mouse“ Burton, one half of the super group Gnarls Barkley, was set to produce but Turner died in December of 2007 and the project was off. Apparently The Keys liked what they saw in D. Mouse and hired him to produce the new album. The result is another absolutely mind-blowing record. According to a review by Rolling Stone Magazine, the new album is, "...The Key's most multicolored set: A psychedelic hybrid of vintage Southern R&B, brutish British Invasion rock, and country blues that calls to mind race-blurring Seventies badasses like Jim Ford and Tony Joe White."
Attack is more polished than previous recordings, due largely to the fact that it was recorded and produced in an actual recording studio. Don't let that fool you though, the thick distorted guitar and howling vocals still dominate the record. I must admit I was less than thrilled when I heard Danger Mouse would be producing this effort by The Keys. I wasn't interested in a "new" Black Keys sound. After listening, I've come to the conclusion that the dude is a music genius. What he did on the album is nothing short of amazing, and what he did is hardly anything at all! He let the Keys be the Keys, raw and powerful, while he added his smooth touch in small doses creating an even better Black Keys' sound.
The Keys show their new-found diversity right out of the gate with the mellow, organ-filled opener, "All You Ever Wanted." The pace picks up very quickly with fist-pumping, riff heavy, "I Got Mine," and continues through the distorted cleverness of "Strange Times." "Psychotic Girl," one of the album's best songs, opens with a tasty little banjo riff, features a super smooth groove throughout the song and hooks you with eerie, haunting chorus. The album closes with "Things Ain't Like They Used To Be," a beautiful duet with 18-year-old bluegrass singer Jessica Lea Mayfield.
Attack & Release explores all of the musical genres that blend masterfully to create The Black Keys' powerful sound. Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach sounds amazing throughout the whole record, his super smooth licks on the 6 string and his perfectly distorted vocals blend effortlessly with Carney's foot stomping rhythm. Throw in an organ, a banjo, a flute, and a mad scientist producer, and you have the most ambitious, diverse Black Keys Album to date. This is incredible music and is one of the best records so far of 2008.