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.

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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