Originally Published for BU Common Ground on 1/10/11
2010 was the year the two-piece blues-based rock outfit, the Black Keys, burst through their garage door and cemented their reputation as premier indie rockers. While guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney of Akron, Ohio were certainly not unknown after amassing an impressive career of five albums, two EPs, and one collaborative hip-hop experiment, the Black Keys now appear to be gaining the most mainstream success they’ve ever garnered after releasing their latest album, Brothers – and the accolades keep on coming. Their hit single, “Tighten Up,” reached number one on the Billboard Rock Songs Chart and has since been nominated for the Grammys’ “Best Rock Song.” The band has additionally been nominated for three other Grammys including Best Alternative Music Album and has earned Rolling Stone’s second best album of the year title. Furthermore, one cannot turn on the TV, go to a movie, or boot up a videogame without hearing a new track from the Black Keys. Is this praise deserved? Well in a word: yes.
Brothers continues the Black Keys’ musical growth where 2008’s Attack & Release left off. Prior to that album (produced by Danger Mouse), it was fairly easy to identify any Black Keys song as most sounded remarkably similar; the Black Keys never left the realm of dirty and riff-tastic blues-rock. With Brothers, the Black Keys weren’t afraid to take risks; Dan Auerbach experiments with a whispery falsetto that provides the perfect counterpoint to his ever-raspy howl and the band utilizes more keyboard and bass than ever. These changes are certainly welcomed and make Brothers sound much more soulful, complete, and polished than any previous effort, making it arguably the Black Keys’ best outing yet.
“Everlasting Light” opens the album with Auerbach’s beautifully crunchy guitar and Carney’s deep drum beat driving the song before Auerbach unveils his shiny new falsetto. This song is a total throwback to late 60s and early 70s blues rock, yet doesn’t sound like any previous Black Keys song to date. “Everlasting Light” is a perfect opener for the album, showing the listeners that Black Keys have indeed grown. The strongest tracks on the album continue this arrangement of crunchy guitar and messy drums, from “Next Girl” to “The Go Getter” and “Sinister Kid” and the aforementioned “Tighten Up.” The latter is incredibly catchy, beginning with a light whistle hook before Carney’s fill-heavy drumming and Auerbach’s soulful vocals kick in. About 2/3rds through the song, the music melts apart before being revived with an even hazier and messy sound for the last minute. The bonus track “Ohio” may actually be one of the better songs on the album; after its sing-song opening and bluesy verses, Auerbach delivers a powerful, Neil Young esque solo for over a minute to close out the track in what sounds like an unintentional homage to the great guitarist whose song of the same name is a classic. Another great track, “The Only One,” has a gentler feel to it, yet sticks with the sonic theme of the album. This kinder, gentler sound is continued with the last four songs of the album as compassion and passion drip from Auerbach’s grizzled mouth.
While the tracks on Brothers depart from the typical Black Keys sound, the album itself does not change up that much. The album clocks in at just under an hour (not including the bonus track) and a little diversity would do the album wonders.
Ultimately, Brothers is a very promising album for the Black Keys. The band has grown considerably from their early days as garage-rock rockers who would churn out albums in a day and it will be very interesting to see what the band does from here. Will they continue growing or stick to their tried-and-true methods?
Overall Grade: 8.5
This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the album, but of the band’s live shows. While, they are certainly very energetic live, they tend to have very repetitive set lists. Minus a few of the new tracks, the set list for the Brothers tour was basically identical to a show of theirs from theAttack & Release tour. I would love for them to diversify their sets.