Review Summary: This is the sixth album by the Black Keys. This band is still really good.
The Black Keys have been in a surprisingly experimental phase lately. The famously minimalist blues-rock duo recruited rising hip-hop producer Danger Mouse for their 2008 LP Attack & Release
. In early 2009, frontman Dan Auerbach released a folky, sometimes psychedelic solo album called Keep it Hid
. Later that year, the band collaborated with hip-hop stars like the RZA, Jim Jones and Mos Def to release an album under the name of Blakroc. Now the Ohioans are back with their sixth full-length, Brothers
. The one thing these albums all have in common" They all are as solid and consistent as any band could ever hope to be (with the exception of Keep it Hid
, which falls a little flat at times).
One would expect that, due to the band's choice of recording in the blues heartland of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the band would go back to the sound of The Big Come Up
. But it appears that the Black Keys have found a happy medium between the riffy Delta blues of their first four albums and the groove and weirdness of their more recent work. Opening track "Everlasting Light" is an interesting choice to start. The track retains much of the Danger Mouse-styled production of Attack & Release
and sees Auerbach singing way above his usual range for the entire song. But the following song, "Next Girl" brings you right into the Black Keys' pocket, where you will remain until the album's halfway point. While synth and other effects are used throughout, they don't dominate the early songs like on Attack.
This is most apparent in the stretch of songs known as "Howlin' For You," "She's Long Gone" and "Black Mud." "Howlin'" rides a handclap beat for the whole song, but retains the Black Keys' classic blues atmosphere. "She's Long Gone" is a standout, featuring some of Auerbach's best riffing in years, with some cool guitar effects to boot. "Black Mud" is a short but powerful instrumental track devoid of experimentation in the background.
This trio segues into the 5-minute "The Only One," which features very prominent effects and another high-voiced performance from Auerbach. Compared to "Black Mud," the track is rather off-putting, and is the second-longest track here. Follower "Too Afraid to Love" adds an extremely rare element of the Black Keys' music: bass. The guitar on this track is actually obscured by the bass, keys, and repetitive shuffling beat of drummer Patrick Carney. As weird as the song is coming from this band, it is an excellent track in its own right.
Bass becomes a constant by the third quarter of the album. "Sinister Kid" is based around an incredibly groovy bassline and several pieces of percussion. The choruses feature female backing vocals and muted guitar--an instrument that is barely even noticeable in the song until a badass solo in the middle that leads to an increased amount of guitar heroics to close. Basslines continue to increase in prominence over the next couple of tracks, but guitar takes center stage again on the balladish "Unknown Brother," with its ascending-descending Phantom of the Opera
marks an interesting point in the Black Keys' career. The album is a journey through all of the sounds that the band has had in their 9-year album-releasing lifespan. Yet at the same time, it has a distinct sound of its own--any Black Keys release in the next few years will undoubtedly have songs that will either be considered Brothers
ish or more like their old work. It's an important step in the evolution of a band that was getting by on the bare essentials. Don't get me wrong, everything from The Big Come Up
is excellent, but the band was in danger of releasing the same album over and over again. If Attack & Release
were mere experimental failures, then that would sound like a good plan. But the blues-loving boys from Akron have proven that they can adapt to an ever-growing palette of musical styles, and this album proves that they should keep it up while they're young.