The Black Keys – “Attack & Release”

9 September 2019

I’ve recently adopted a steadfast motto when it comes to new music: If it doesn’t rock – and I mean really rock – I won’t listen. Luckily for me (and for the countless others who I’m sure share my view … I know you’re out there), there’s a new album from a band I can listen to without cringing.

“Attack & Release” is the Black Keys’ fifth studio album, and the roots-rock duo has ­never sounded better, thanks in part to a new presence in the recording studio: Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, of Gnarls Barkley fame.

For the most part, the Keys are the same stripped-down, drums and guitar outfit of albums past, but the infusion of Danger Mouse’s subtle electronic beats and swirly keys take the band’s sound to a new level. And the best part is they achieve this without compromising the band’s essentially DIY vibe, resulting in a sound that’s just produced enough.

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Hailing from Akron, Ohio, the unassuming breeding ground of countless punk acts (think The Cramps and, believe it or not, Devo), the Black Keys have an inherently punk-rock attitude. The DIY ethic lives on in songs like “Strange Times,” whose forceful beats and crunchy guitars conjure traces of Iggy and the Stooges.

“I Got Mine,” a single-worthy blues-rock track, is a clear standout. It’s a plain and perfectly executed throwback to the soul-baring, throat-scratching classics of the blues-rock pioneers of the ’60s. It is perfect in its approach­ability – clearly untainted by the gadgets and watered-down version of modern music production – but it still bares the innovation of production done right. At the heart of the track lies a swirling, psychedelic maelstrom where good old guitars meet Danger Mouse’s deftly-laid electronics.

But it is in the quietest and most tender moments that one can truly judge a band’s talent. The album’s opening song, “All You Ever Wanted,” is a pitch-perfect indicator that this band has some serious chops. Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach proves that you don’t have to have the widest or most impressive range to be able to conjure emotion and credibility – his drawl is at once compassionate and hardened. You know it’s a good song when you can feel the music with your whole being – your heart, your head, and your soul. This is one of those rare tracks where you feel at one with the band.

“Attack & Release” proves to be a perfect mix of blues-rock, punk ethos and contemporary. It is unpretentious – something that’s hard to find in today’s alternative scene. It’s a breath of fresh, grimy, rootsy air – a welcome gust amid the current saccharine state of music.

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