The Black Keys – Brothers

Rating: ★★★★ ·

Though they may not be related, the relationship between Akron’s Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach is as close a bond as you will find.  When they link up, things just seem to fall into place; even here on their latest, following a 2 year hiatus from ‘The Black Keys’ proper. In the time following the polarizing Attack and Release in 2008, Auerbach has released his critically acclaimed Keep It Hid, Carney released an album with his side project Drummer, and the group collaborated with many high profile rappers for yet another critically acclaimed release 2009’s, BlakRoc.  While some may be lead in different directions following a break or may show signs of rust, The Black Keys engine is running like a finely tuned motor. Their latest Brothers, continues in their latest music trend, to build on their more refined sound, for better or worse.

Brothers is another heavily produced album, but this time it is mostly all self-produced in several sessions. The effect is again clean and polished, proving that they have learned a lot of tricks in 2 years. While (it seems) they desire to keep a ‘broke ass’, stripped down blues-rock anthem, they are discovering new recording methods after working with producer Danger Mouse, who pushed them in the opposite direction. Luckily for the listener, they seem to have struck a balance.  Many listeners will enjoy the latest over-production on the past 2 studio albums, but I for one am always relieved that Dan and Pat continue to tour without the extras.  The question for many will be whether or not they will tour with an additional member, as many tracks here carry bass lines. During SXSW this year, they were still only a duo; so that gives me hope. There’s something romantic about blues music in its simplicity and when surrounded by fancy recording contraptions it’s easy to get carried away. Here, for the most part, it’s back to the roots and these ‘Brothers’ continue to be one of the best touring acts around and continue to grow their brand based on this simple, rare talent.

The album begins with a foray into new vocal territory for Auerbach with ‘Everlasting Light’, as he utilizes a falsetto voice. If the Black Keys are known for one thing, it has become Auerbach’s raspy voice. For most listeners, this opener doesn’t sound like a typical Black Keys song, especially as the entry point into the new material, though it is catchy. However, ‘Next Girl’ is much more traditional for the duo, though after hanging with the likes of Q-Tip and Raekwon, they seem to have picked up a hip hop influence or two, expecting Mos Def to chime in after the first verse and chorus. Similarly, ‘Too Afraid to Love You’ holds the same vibe very effectively. The first single on the album is the lone Danger Mouse produced track, ‘Tighten Up’ and by now, most of you have should have heard it.  No doubt this track is a Danger Mouse special and continues to get better with time. Another new venture for the duo is the instrumental track ‘Black Mud’ with a 60’s vibe pipe organ and heavy feedback.  The frist half of the record is solid, but the duo really hits their stride with the great three track combo of ‘Ten Cent Pistol’, ‘Sinister Kid’, and ‘The Go Getter’, highlighting some of the best songwriting for Auerbach, which is becoming old-hat.

In general, the record is lengthy and carries much more subdued blues ballads than energetic numbers apart from ‘Howlin’ For You’ and ‘She’s Long Gone’.  However, this overall slower tempo doesn’t mean the potency is not there. The question for many fans will be do they come across better with the new tricks or rather without the added production gimmicks; essentially back to the roots of simple Kimbrough-era instrumentation. The tunes are great and Auerbach’s songwriting is as solid as ever.  The lone detractor for me is Carney’s percussive style is so restrained throughout that his power and energy is long gone from the Thickfreakness days.  In most tracks, I could see a drum machine being used in his place and no one would notice (maybe even with him on bass). I don’t want to condone a band not evolve, and I feel this album is one of their most polished, complete, and accessible/ genre-bending. It will most certainly grasp a new audience and appease the masses that are growing used to this newer sound. I just hope the boys travel back to Akron and revisit Pat’s basement soon. That said, Brothers still one of the best albums of the year so far and their best since Rubber Factory.  If Austin gets lucky enough to have the boys back for ACL, they will no doubt dominate the massive crowd they are likely to receive.

[audio: http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/The-Black-Keys-Tighten-Up-WR.mp3]

Download: The Black Keys – Tighten Up [MP3]

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