Archive for ‘Album Review’

May 27, 2010

The Black Keys Unlock Their Inner Groove

by George

Just look at the cover…how can this record not be awesome?

On their latest album, Brothers, The Black Keys show that while they helped define the DIY, lo-fi, garage-rock sound that had a renaissance in recent years, they aren’t bound to it.  Quite the contrary.  True, their first few albums portrayed the Keys as modern-day blues/indie revival shamans, liberating people from the notion that big record labels and bigger budgets don’t = better music.  But the duo, singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach & drummer Pat Carney, have taken the success of their last album, Attack and Release, with its somewhat adventurous attitude and slick Danger Mouse produced tracks, as a signal to really open the flood gates and show off some new studio tricks.

It’s obvious from the material that there’s been a lot going on in the Akron duo’s personal lives.  Auerbach stretches deep inside and pulls out a truly emotional and honest vocal delivery while Carney sticks to what he’s best at, laying down a solid, simple, one-track-mind groove for guitar, organ and string melodies to soar over and dance around.  Recorded at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio (slide guitar great Duane Allman recorded there..boom) this album goes down smooth and feels as though it has an old soul, one that’s been weathered and worn but still has enough gritty charm left to entertain.

The band has delved into the realm of early 60s R&B and 70s Soul (check out the falsetto vocals on the opening track) and almost every track has a guitar hook or vocal melody that sticks in your brainparts like NASA-engineered velcro.  One new sonic departure (or arrival) for the Keys is the addition of a (at times prominent) silky bass line that slides through many of these tunes.  I’m all for it, especially with this material.  These simple yet effective bass lines, along with keys and some string orchestration, convey more depth than their usual fuzzed-out guitar and drum assault.  The band has taken one soggy, swampy footstep away from Delta-blues homage and moved more towards defining their own sound.  All the same pieces are there, but they’ve been re-calibrated to hit harder and resonate louder.  Some  highlights from the record:

  • Everlasting Night: At first you think, “This isn’t a Black Keys record”…then your foot starts tapping
  • Next Girl: could have been on Magic Potion…watch the video
  • Ten Cent Pistol: Revenge is a dish best served cold
  • I’m Not the One: More soul than a James Brown slow jam

No doubt, fans of the Black Keys will quickly adopt this album into the family (and if you haven’t heard Rubber Factory or Magic Potion before…do it now!) but innocent bystanders will have no trouble singing along with the hooks.  Still cool enough for the indie hipsters but accessible to blues-rock freaks and lovers of all things vintage, the Black Keys keep getting better.

May 16, 2010

Grateful for The Dead (Weather) – A review of the new Dead Weather album

by George

When their debut, Horehound, came out last year, I figured that the Dead Weather would just be another notch on the bedpost of musical projects for drummer/singer Jack White (see also The White Stripes & Raconteurs).  I was pleasantly surprised when I was greeted with a sleazy, leather-jacket wearing slab of 70’s style rock (they even put some Zep-style blues raunch on a Dylan tune).  It was simple, fuzzier than a moldy peach and most definitely rock but it still took me a few months to fully appreciate.  I soon came to realize that what lay before me was a go-to rock record.

That’s why I was chomping at the bit to pick up their latest album, Sea of Cowards.   It’s certainly more musically varied than their debut but the core elements are still there: thick distorted guitars and bass (with plenty of unrestrained feedback); the quirky organ & synthesizer melodies that make you wanna shake your ass; the simple but effective backbeat drumming raining with cymbal crashes.  Lyrically and musically, each of these songs follow a most weird spiral inward, repetitiously meandering with (seemingly) no purpose until they flip the switch and the bands breaks out into a heavy, head-nodding groove.  For me, the standout performance that claws its way to the top of this sloppy (in a good way) rock mess is the venom-spit vocal delivery from singer Alison Mosshart.  Her vocal delivery on this album seems like the cue to let the band know when to turn it up and let loose for a few bars.  Coupled with the occasional vocal duet from behind the drum kit, these chant-like mantras shake the listener with intensity.  Here are the tunes I’m diggin’ after the first few listens:

  • The opener, ‘Blue Blood Blues’, steps in with a drunken swagger and a slippery guitar/bass line that serves as the perfect linkage for listeners from the last record.  Some trippy, looped vocals at the track’s end give way to the funky bass line intro of ‘Hustle and Cuss’
  • ‘Jawbreaker’ is another tune that comes in with a dirty, hip-swinging rock and roll feel before switching gears into a rapid-fire, stop & start descending drum fill/synth arpeggio that reminds me of the post-breakdown (~ 4:57 mark) drum pummeling of ‘Dazed and Confused’.
  • The truly bizarre ‘Old Mary’ simply because of it’s foreboding, slurred organ drawl and killer final lyric (Carry this burden, now and till the moment of your last breath)

Just like the debut, I think that I will need a few months to digest this album as well.  If the last record brought to mind 70’s rock, it seems like the band has taken another half-step toward the 80s; the prominence of buzzy synth/organ lines is the most noticeable musical difference from their last offering.  At first glance, it may seem like those crazy kids have simply found more ways to keep the retro-without-coming-off-as-trying-to-hard vibe going but I think that this record serves as a solid platform for The Dead Weather to continue building their own schizophrenic sound.


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