Saturday, November 06, 2010

Album review: The Black Keys - Brothers (4/5)

Blues-rock isn't a genre I'm particularly well acquainted with. My most significant exposure to it is from The White Stripes, who take a more punkish approach. But if, like me, you enjoy them, then The Black Keys' Brothers is worth checking out.

This is the sixth album from the American duo, formed in Akron, Ohio. Their production has a simple, often lo-fi quality, with highly amped guitars and distorted vocals, although there is an occasional use of other instruments, even keyboard effects. To these admitted pop-tuned ears, "Tighten Up" is the most appealing track. I particularly like the how the tempo shifts during the middle section. Danger Mouse produced their last album, and shows up here just on this song (the rest of the album is produced by the band and Mark Neill).

The first half of the album is particularly appealing, starting with the toe-tapping opener, "Everlasting Light," over which singer Dan Auerbach delivers a distorted falsetto vocal. "Next Girl" has a deeper blues vibe, like a late-night jam in some smoky dive bar. "Howlin' for You" ups the energy with some handclaps and particularly retro-sounding guitar work.

Halfway through is another standout, "The Only One," one of the more refined songs on this otherwise quite gritty album. Guitar and organ intermingle with the restrained, love-lorn vocal. "Two Afraid to Love" is darker with some harpsichord thrown in for variety. Grimy "Ten Cent Pistol" follows two tracks later, with a meaty, guitar-driven sound. These are the kind of songs that wouldn't be out of place scoring a Quentin Tarantino film. They go for a sweeter Motown-ish sound on "Never Gonna Give You Up," a remake of a song soul singer Jerry Butler recorded long ago.

The album has received a significant amount of acclaim from critics, and I expect it will appear on many of their year-end top 10 lists. It probably won't be on mine, but it's a candidate for top 20. Certainly something interesting and different from what I usually listen to.

Best: Tighten Up, Everlasting Light, The Only One, Next Girl, Ten Cent Pistol

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