Under Review: The Black Keys – Brothers

Sometimes, spending some time away from your band can cure a tough case of writer’s block.  That, or working with an outside producer in a for real studio.  Note that the second option works best if you’ve spent the better part of a decade in a garage-y blues duo from Akron.  The Black Keys recruited the production powerhouse that is Danger Mouse to produce 2008’s Attack & Release, which opened a new chapter in the duo’s career.  No longer are they the anti-White Stripes; they’ve evolved into a psychedelic, atmospheric roots rock combo.  Though Danger Mouse himself is largely absent from the Keys’ new album, Brothers is still haunted by his signature style’s specter.  Brothers also comes a year after guitarist Dan Auerbach released a solo disc, drummer Patrick Carney formed Drummer, and the duo collaborated with some hip-hoppers for the Blackroc project.  Despite the inactivity of the Keys, the new songs sound as though no time has passed at all.  Brothers leans heavily on the overall sound of its predecessor, but there are still plenty of tricks packed into the album’s 15 tracks (the most on any Keys album so far).  Many great records lead with a one-two punch, but Brothers ups that with a smashing opening triptych: “Everlasting Light” melds a T. Rex backbeat with Prince-ly vocals, “Next Girl” is an ode to the upwardly mobile and “Tighten Up,” the lone Danger Mouse track, is a thrilling, shifting gem.  As the album progresses, the duo occasionally fall into the mid-tempo grooves that have padded most of their previous outings.  To be sure, Brothers’ midsection is enjoyable, but the abundance of songs can get a little exhausting.  A spooky harpsichord on “Too Afraid To Love You” and a creaky lead guitar on “Sinister Kid” further the band’s darker visions, but “The Go Getter” and the hazy closer “These Days” show a more reflective, optimistic side to the duo.  The Black Keys might have very well saved themselves from infinitely retreading their own material (or worse yet, breaking up) with their sonic revamp, but their firm-footedness in blues and R&B (seen on this album with their take on Jerry Butler’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”) keeps them from making overly cryptic albums.  Auerbach and Carney are carrying their new sound very well, though a back-to-basics move or the addition of some untapped influences would be quite welcome the next time around.

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~ by E. on May 24, 2010.

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