Record Review: Black Keys, 'Brothers'

Categories: Record Review
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The Hype: Though it's terribly cliche to describe a band's new album as their "most anticipated to date," few phrases can really describe the curiosity behind the latest output from guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. Especially when you consider how much extracurricular activity they've engaged in since 2009's Attack and Release-much of which was potentially sound-altering.
Auerbach churned out a solo record, while Carney's been playing bass in his own side project (ironically, it's a band called Drummer). And let's not forget their much-applauded hip-hop project, Blakroc. Now that they've reunited, the Key's sixth album, Brothers (out today on Nonesuch Records) has the potential to be the Akron duo's first big push to test the undiscovered limits of their sound.

The Judgement: Despite it's overall goodness, there's got to be a little confusion on the part of traditional Black Keys fans regarding Brothers. And it starts with the very first track, "Everlasting Light." It sounds as if Auerbach traded in his weathered, soulful voice in for a chirpy, Smokey Robinson falsetto as he sings the opening lines over a hip-swiveling soul beat. Oddly enough, it works...very, very well. They don't really broach that sound again for the rest of the record, but the song sets the tone for a wealth of interesting, stylistic brush strokes that you're not going to find on Rubber Factory, or any of the classic Keys albums. 

Though the fuzzy, distorted guitar twangs on "Next Girl" and "Tighten Up" are easy enough for most fans of the band to digest, they come with some added indie rock touches-filtered vocals, cutesy whistling, searing organ lines-that add a boost to their minimalist aesthetic. 

The confusion continues on the opening drum beat for "Howlin' For You," when Carney dishes out some glam rock glitter (Gary Glitter, specifically) beats that mimic "Rock'n'Roll
(Part 2)." From track to track, you can hear the progression, the inspired ideas and the momentary stumbles that signify a the band's compulsion to try new things. 

Another point of confusion: where are all the balls-to-the-wall rock & roll tunes on this album? It looks like slow, smoky blues ballads rule the second half of this record, as does Auerbach's  gritty, captivating lyricism.

Grade: A-

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