The Black Keys
It's too facile to call the Black Keys counterparts of the White Stripes: they share several surface similarities -- their names are color-coded, they hail from the Midwest, they're guitar-and-drum blues-rock duos -- but the Black Keys are their own distinct thing, a tougher, rougher rock band with a purist streak that never surfaced in the Stripes. But that's not to say that the Black Keys are blues traditionalists: even on their 2002 debut, The Big Come Up, they covered the Beatles' psychedelic classic "She Said She Said," indicating a fascination with sound and texture that would later take hold on such latter-day albums as 2008's Attack & Release, where guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney teamed up with sonic architect Danger Mouse. In between those two records, the duo established the Black Keys as a rock & roll band with a brutal, primal force, and songwriters of considerable depth, as evidenced on such fine albums as 2003's Thickfreakness and 2004's Rubber Factory. Natives of Akron, Ohio, the Black Keys released their debut, The Big Come Up, in 2002, receiving strong reviews and sales, and leading to a contract with Fat Possum by the end of the year. That label released Thickfreakness, recorded in a 14-hour session, in the spring of 2003, and the Keys supported the album with an opening tour for Sleater-Kinney. The Black Keys' momentum escalated considerably with their 2004 album Rubber Factory, which not only received strong reviews but some high-profile play, including a video for "10 A.M. Automatic" featuring comedian David Cross. The band's highly touted live act was documented on a 2005 DVD, released the same year as Chulahoma -- an EP of blues covers -- appeared. The Black Keys made the leap to the major labels with 2006's Magic Potion, a moodier record that continued to build their fan base. The band capitalized on that moodiness with 2008's Attack & Release, whose production by Danger Mouse signaled that the Black Keys were hardly just blues-rock purists. Salvaged from sessions intended as a duet album with Ike Turner, who died before the record could be finished, the album was the Black Keys' biggest to date, debuting in the Billboard Top 15 and earning strong reviews. Following their second live DVD, the Black Keys spent 2009 on side projects, with Auerbach releasing his solo album Keep It Hid in the beginning of the year, and Carney forming the band Drummer, in which he played bass. At the end of 2009, Blakroc, a rap-rock collaboration between the band and producer Damon Dash, appeared. Brothers, released in 2010, became their biggest album yet, generating the hit singles "Tighten Up," "Howlin' for You," and "Next Girl." It also saw the Keys returning to their tough blues roots with a new grandness, earning three Grammy Awards, landing on year-end lists from NPR to Rolling Stone, and going gold. The band offered a more straight-ahead rock & roll sound with 2011's El Camino. On the strength of the hit single "Lonely Boy," El Camino debuted at number two on Billboard's Top 200 and the Black Keys worked the album hard throughout the next year, releasing "Gold on the Ceiling" as the record's second single and touring heavily. In the fall of 2012, the Tour Rehearsal Tapes EP -- a brief collection of live-in-the-studio run-throughs of 2012 material -- was released. Once again tapping Danger Mouse to produce a follow-up, the band went back into the studio in summer 2013 to record. Standing in contrast to the short, spiky rock & roll of El Camino, Turn Blue had a psychedelic undercurrent that could be heard on its preceding singles "Fever" and "Turn Blue." The album appeared early in May 2014 and promptly debuted at the top of the pop charts. Following the promotional cycle for Turn Blue, the Black Keys went on an extended hiatus. Auerbach kept himself busy with plenty of production gigs, along with forming a second band -- the soul-inflected the Arcs --and delivering a second solo album, Waiting for a Song, in 2017. Carney also worked as a producer, notably collaborating with Michelle Branch on her 2017 album Hopeless Romantic. The Black Keys returned to action in March 2019 with the release of the single "Lo/Hi," the first song from their ninth album Let's Rock. Upon its release in June of 2019, Let's Rock debuted at four on Billboard's Top 200 and three on the U.K. charts. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Rock - Released March 31, 2008 | [PIAS] Cooperative
Back in 2002, it seemed easy to discern which of the Midwestern minimalist blues-rock duos was which: the White Stripes were the art-punks, naming albums after Dutch art movements, while the Black Keys were the nasty primitives, bashing out thrilling, raw records like their 2002 debut The Big Come Up and its 2003 follow-up Thickfreakness. Six years later, the duos appear to have switched camps, as Jack White leads the Stripes down a path of obstinate traditionalism while the Black Keys get out, way out, on their fifth album, Attack & Release. Evidently, their 2004 mini-masterpiece Rubber Factory represented the crest of their brutal blues wave, as ever since singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have receded from the gnarled precision of their writing and the big, brutal blues thump, they started to float into the atmosphere with their 2006 EP-length tribute to Junior Kimbrough, Chulahoma. Ever since then, the Black Keys have emphasized waves of sound over either ballast or song, something that should be evident from the choice of Danger Mouse as the producer of Attack & Release, a seemingly unlikely pair that found common ground in the form of Ike Turner. Danger Mouse worked with the rock & roll renegade when he produced the Gorillaz's Demon Days and the plan was to have the Black Keys cut an album with Ike but Turner's death turned the project into a full-fledged Keys album. That's the official story, anyway, but the timeline doesn't quite seem to fit -- Ike died December 12, 2007 and a finished copy of Attack & Release was out in February, which is an awfully short turnaround to complete an album -- nor does the sound of the album seem to fit that timeline, either, as it's elliptical, open-ended, and reliant on the spacy sonics the Black Keys have sketched out since Rubber Factory, so it's hard to imagine where Turner would have fit into this. But it's not hard at all to see how avant guitarist Marc Ribot fits into this elastic mix, as this is the kind of restless, textural roots-aware rock reminiscent of the spirit, if not quite the sound, of Elvis Costello and Tom Waits, two mavericks Ribot has played with in years past. This shift to sound over song has been so gradual for the Black Keys that Ribot's cameo doesn't seem intrusive, nor does Danger Mouse's hazy production feel forced upon the band, it's filled with details so sly they're almost imperceptible. As always, Danger Mouse encourages the band to intensify what's already there, and so Attack & Release willfully drifts, as dreamy, artfully sonic sculptures are punctured by Auerbach's rumbling guitars and Carney's clattering drums. But where the interplay of the Auerbach and Carney always felt immediate in their earliest work, there's a bit of a remove here, with the riffs used as paint brushes instead of blunt objects. The same can be said of the songs, where even the most immediate tunes -- "Psychotic Girl," the B-side "Remember When" -- don't grab and hold like those on the group's earliest records, and they're not really growers either, as the point here is not the individual tunes but rather the greater picture, as everything here weaves together to create a mood: one that shifts but doesn't stray, one that's nebulous but not formless, one that's evocative but not haunting. To be sure, it's an accomplishment and one that showcases the Black Keys' deepening skills but at times it's hard not to miss how the duo used to grab a listener by the neck and not let go. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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The Black Keys in the magazine