Friday, September 10, 2004

Music Releases: Catching Up on The Black Keys

In light of The Dude’s unofficial assumption of duty as official “Off The Table” film critic/reviewer (which I fully endorse - hoping he shows up for duty with greater consistency), it also seems rational to post some music reviews. While I don't pretend to listen to as many new albums as Jason - err…The Dude - sees movies, I’ll give it a shot. By all means, please consider this an invitation to anyone interested in posting album reviews, movie reviews, book reviews, or consumer reports - for that matter. As I always say, the more social contribution, distribution of resources, and freedom of expression, the better ;). Conservative watch-dogs: rest assured, in the foregoing sentence I intended no ist to follow “social,” no re to precede “distribution,” and no obscenity in “expression.”

The Black Keys; “The Big Come Up”, “Thickfreakness”
Let me start off this review by noting that The Black Keys just released a new album called “Rubber Factory”, which I will review once I get a chance to hear it in full. These guys hail from my region of late - the Midwest. This Ohio-based outfit is difficult to categorize for a variety of reasons. Some folks are content to lob them in with the already fading “garage-band scene”. Upon first impression, one may find the designation unobjectionable. The Keys employ the familiar minimalist approach; a raw, stripped-down, and unpolished guitar purism that’s associated with the garage scene. They are only two; a guitarist (who doubles as vocalist) and drummer. This, inevitably, has led to misguided comparisons with The White Stripes. That certainly isn’t a crime, but in the end, the “Keys” are a different animal than the “Stripes” and transcend the garage scene. Getting to the point here, these guys are a gifted, dyed-in-the-wool, blues-rock band. In fact, they are only notches away from being straight blues.

A discussion of their sound couched in comparisons to the likes of The Allman Brothers, Ten Years After, and most of all, Cream, is markedly more fitting. That’s not to say their sound is derivative. In fact, heavily influenced by the aforementioned it may be; but they sound uniquely and incredibly refreshing. The fact that we’re currently being starved of good rock in a drought that dates further back than Utah’s probably plays a role in all of this. Nevertheless, these guys sound so good to me it’s exciting. The last couple of years I’ve been on a strong and steady drift away from rock and deeper into jazz. The Keys aren’t going to throw that into reverse, but they’re one of the only current rock bands that provide a compelling reason for frequent visits back to the old stomping grounds. The first time I heard them, I was, for lack of a better term, stoked. It had been a long time, with a rock band, since I’d had that sensation you (or maybe just I) get when what your hear greatness on first listen and it’s like a revelation. They have soul. They’re dripping with it. You want to jump in it like mud…err…football. These two are for real. (Side Note: I was genuinely befuddled when I discovered the vocalist wasn’t black – his blues voice is so dead-on…and that is a compliment on every level).
As for comparing the two albums, both of which are excellent, the debut, “The Big Come Up,” is probably the superior. As alluded to above, some of the earlier tracks on the record are strikingly Cream-ish, especially “The Breaks,” the fourth track. If “The Breaks” isn’t the long-lost sonic epilogue to Cream’s “Politician,” then nothing is. Unless you’ve picked up an album, it’s unlikely you’ve heard much, if anything, from these guys’ catalog. If you saw “School of Rock,” then you heard portions of “Set You Free,” a short, catchy, and solid rock tune also appearing as track number three on “Thickfreakness.” In short, you can’t go wrong with either disc, but all else being equal, I’d start with the debut. Stay tuned for a review of their new release “Rubber Factory.”

For good measure, I thought I’d tack on’s short review of “Thickfreakness.”
Akron, Ohio's Black Keys offer crunchy, riff-heavy blues-rock that is remarkably rich and textured, particularly when one considers that they are merely a duo. Continuing in the vein of their 2002 debut, The Big Come Up, this sophomore CD leavens their garage blues with enough innovation to keep things interesting, taking full advantage of Dan Auerbach’s full-throated growl. Particularly appealing are "Hard Row," which lurks somewhere between Cream and punk rock, the strong stomp of "Everywhere I Go," and the irresistible guitar riff that graces "If You See Me." The Black Keys might be covering familiar territory, but they do it so well--and with so much invention--that one is inclined to yield it to them and see what they do with it. --Genevieve Williams


Blogger Jason Work said...

Sweet. I just read the review of the new album in Entertainment Weekly and it sounds great. I've only heard a little of their stuff, but it sounds cool. They even have a little early Bad Company vibe (which the EW review picked up on as well.) Also, the EW review said this is their best album so far. Do you agree?

9/13/2004 11:21 AM  

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