Nearing a decade as a duo, The Black Keys sound astronomically far from tired. Invigoration is a theme that blinds the listener into sublimity. But don't fear, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are still (roughly) the same guys that brought you The Big Comeup
all the way back in 2002. Still driven by but confused with the ladies and still goofballs by nature, the two have used the years to solidify what it is they are good at.
On El Camino
, again with Danger Mouse's faultless production, The Black Keys have swarmed onto a melding of styles (glam-rock, garage, psychedelic) that already feels classic even in its modernity. Kicking the door down, you are subjected to being thrown and tossed around in the initial bravado of the gut-to-the-walls riff of "Lonely Boy." It brashly oozes and echoes into a snappy organ. With the inclusion of countrified pickups, it is impossible not to shimmy. The chorus battles with the central lyrics "I got a love that keeps me waiting / I'm a lonely boy". Despite daddy-issues insults slung, the magnetism of The Black Keys relies upon the relationship between sneering malice and dead sexiness. (There, I said it).
"Dead and Gone" follows in a more lighthearted vein, but like every song on the album, it's a hip-swiveler. The guitar veritably pops off like a champagne cork, while punctuated percussive elements (handclaps, stomping) brush with elevated "Na-Na"s and a chiming impetus. Auerbach displays a vulnerable addictive relation to his mystery girl as he draws out the word "long" and proves that he's slain with "It's what you say, I'll obey". George Thorogood might as well be drinking alone with the two on "Gold on the Ceiling," a study between heavy, overblown electric basslines and riffs and the sassy motion of female vocals which subsume the chorus. The song directly transfers to your subconscious (I was singing it days later as I made cereal) due to how the guitar bits backlash and croon—an abusive affront forgiven by pure sultriness.
"Little Black Submarines" tricks you into thinking you'll have space to breathe. It is introspective and folky; vocals and guitars are suspended in time until the distortion floods in, shit gets broken, and the wandering of before is absolutely crushed. "Money Maker" was the first instance I began to get tripped up. Don't hate me yet, it is certainly groovy and titters with keen reverb and echo on the vocals and the lyrics are filthy-good. Yet the chorus is deflated in opposition to the verses, those capable of hollowing out the listener in their praise-worthy, inimitable swagger.
Now, I couldn't get this idea out of my head—the verses are so dynamite on most tracks and the choruses lack. The fuzzed-out careening of "Run Right Back" feels recycled, as the male/female chorus recalls previous tracks. I preferred the last thirty seconds of "Run Right Back" where, underneath the dysmorphic layers, a hyper rockabilly riff gets showcased on its own. Hearing the rest of the album, I couldn't agree that "Sister" was the most obvious or best choice for a single. Thank God for "Hell of a Season," hands down my favorite. With its prehistoric build-up and punkish temperament, the most surprising moment of the whole album was the instrumental interlude before the bridge: a backbeat in combat with dub-y bass. Being so enraptured with "Hell of a Season," the last three tracks did not resonate. On "Stop-Stop" and "Nova Baby" the synths are strangely combined and rather mall-ready. "Mind Eraser" pleads "Don't let it be over"—an easy enough farewell.
Boiling back down to basics though, the simple song structures are what make The Black Keys so phenomenal—they twist and turn structures we have grown up with into bold badassery. Here in particular, it's clear The Black Keys' talent relies upon the masterful dialectic between the raw meat of their guitars and stadium-rock sheen. It feels decisively simple but we all know how hard it is to appear effortless. Here, the Black Keys claim reign of a prismatic iteration of garage influences that have led to them to such prestigious opportunities.
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MP3:"Hell of a Season"