Under Review: The Black Keys – Attack & Release

There was a time round about the 1960s when a record’s producer was just as integral to a group’s sound as the musicians themselves. Characters like Phil Spector, Joe Meek and Don Kirshner shaped their often anonymous bands to produce pop music gold. Over the years, though, as more and more musicians dabbled in production, the producer-as-icon image faded. If there’s one person in music today who is bringing attention back to the producer’s seat, it’s Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton. Danger Mouse’s most recent endeavor is the latest from gritty blues duo The Black Keys, Attack & Release. As fans of The Black Keys are well aware, the boys from Akron are masters at making raw, sludgy rock and roll. However, with four albums behind them, the time had evidently come to broaden their sonic spectrum. Danger Mouse spun his magic on the record’s tracks, infusing the moody psychedelia that permeated his production of The Good, The Bad & The Queen last year. The ghostly atmospherics seem an unlikely match with The Black Keys’ raucous rock, but the combination is surprisingly enjoyable. Attack & Release is the Keys’ first record recorded in an actual studio, which adds scores to their already infectious material. Woozy organs and other assorted synthesizers are plentiful on tracks like “Strange Times” and “Lies”. At the center of the record is “Remember When”, which stretches over two distinct parts: a hazy ballad and a Gun Club-esque rave-up. My personal favorite is the album’s closer, “Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be”, where guitarist Dan Auerbach trades lines with 18-year-old bluegrass songstress Jessica Lea Mayfield in some kind of Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra track from another planet. As much as I have liked the Keys’ past efforts, it’s clear to me (as it is likely clear to them) that expanding their sound beyond the guitar/drums dynamic is a huge leap forward. It’s also very admirable for Danger Mouse to step outside his usual retro-hip hop boundaries. The record producer’s time in the spotlight may have since past, but records like Attack & Release (and Mark Ronson‘s Version, for that matter) show the kind of outstanding results a strong pairing of band and producer can, well, produce.

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~ by E. on April 8, 2008.

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