Reviews: Black Keys - Attack & Release

Published at okayplayer.com

Black Keys
Attack & Release
Released by Nonesuch

Brian Burton, a.k.a Danger Mouse, is two for two in 2008.
With the spotlight trained on him as Cee-lo’s odd couplet within the sombre, psychedelica of Gnarls Barkley, Danger Mouse confirms that this will be his year as producer of the Black Keys’ fifth record Attack & Release. And while it’s one in a line of well-received releases for the Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo (Patrick Carney, drums and Dan Auerbach guitar and vocals), sonically, by far, it’s their most creative. That’s not to imply that the Black Keys were in a rut. There’s something to be said about musicians that know their sound and can consistently deliver, and the Black Keys have shown great creative continuity. And even though Attack & Release plays a little more slick than dusty, it’s a change so seemingly slight and organic that it doesn’t veer the band off course.

From top to bottom, trippiness understatedly weaves its way through the banjo-picking, garage-rocking and blues-warbling of the record. You can find its legatoed presence amid the heavy distortion of “I Got Mine” and the driving drums and scratchy guitars of “Strange Times.” Eerie keys dance playfully through the ominous “Psychotic Girl” and a jazz flute flirts with growling guitars on “Same Old Thing.” Although there are many figurative “oh snap!” moments on this record, it’s the real rootsy tracks that evoke the strongest reaction; when lyricism and instrumentation collide on the lamenting, slow-to-climax “Lies” and winding “So He Won’t Break.”

All of the arrangements on Attack & Release blend the impassioned, urgent minimalism of past Black Keys’ records with unconventional, highly melodic elements that mushroom their sound. So even though there are a variety of tempos and lyrical heartbreakers on this record, these elements are usurped by what is a funky contemporary variation of blues rock. Outsourcing production duties for the first time proves no respite for the Akron boys fervor. You need to listen to this record.