Posts tagged ‘Rock’

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.

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February 25, 2010

‘Ground Control to Major Tom…’

by George

Have you ever listened to silence…complete and utter silence.  You might think that you have, but you haven’t.

This is nearly impossible on earth because we do not live within a vacuum.  Even the slightest vibration disturbs and propagates through airwaves enough to defeat silence.  But this is not a science lesson.

And while there is no sound in all the vast reaches of outer space, there is a lot of sound about space; it even has its own sub-genre if you wanna get picky about it (see Space Rock). And despite being a completely silent place itself, we are so intrigued by this unknown world that we have created sonic representations of how we imagine the galaxies to sound.

Any unknown, whether it be a person, place, etc., makes the best theme for a piece of music because there are no boundaries; it’s not something that everyone knows, has seen, experienced or can define.  It leaves itself open to for the utmost personal interpretation and does not limit creativity with harsh reality or preconceived ideas.  Space, to some degree, represents and defines the limits of our human understanding: we describe something/someone out-there as spacey; we space out when not paying attention.  Anything beyond the boundaries of normalcy must be from outer space.

While all music can be an escape from everyday life, there are certain compositions that offer an even farther refuge from this world…one Beyond the Infinite.

So what does rock and roll sound like in space.   It varies slightly depending on which artist you ask, but generally speaking HUGE.  It appears there are few subtleties amongst the stars.  Large, sustaining notes that stretch far into the stars; unlimited reverberations and echoes of sound from a distant planet; an intoxicating, lush swirl of sound; droning loud & distorted tones; a sputtering sequence of synthetic and alien bleeps and blurts.

Each of the instruments used to create this cosmic symphony serves a purpose: the percussion propels the listener’s vessel into deep space like a steady rocket; you feel the pulse of the bass and sub-low frequencies as you climb farther into darkness and then, you see the vivid and colorful guitar and vocal tones and textures of melody and harmony, like the bright astral bodies that litter the galaxies and pass by you on your interstellar voyage.

Pink Floyd, while speeding through the cosmos in Interstellar Overdrive, decided to Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun and took a few albums to come back to self-reflective reality here on Earth.  ‘Surely’, said Hawkwind, ‘Space is Deep‘ as they rode along in their Silver Machine until they heard Earth Calling.  Blue Oyster Cult is another well-versed student of Astronomy.  Even Black Sabbath have travelled Into the Void and beyond to Planet Caravan.

It’s liberating to listen to these sounds and mental place oneself outside the world as we know it; to carry only your imagination with you and be transported from reality.  I doubt that any record made about the confining atmosphere and gravity of Earth would be nearly as exciting.

Put on something ‘spacey’ (preferably on vinyl so that you can hear the hiss and pops), turn off the lights (lava lamps can stay on) and climb aboard.

-George

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