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The Black Keys

[Three and a half stars]
Attack and Release
Nonesuch

Samar Grewal Jun 10, 2008
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Given all the oddness one has come to expect with the ‘duo’ tag (Dresden Dolls, Beach House, Benevento/Russo), no one will hold it against you for throwing your arms in the air and saying “Two people does not a band make!” when the Black Keys are brought up. Fair enough. But consider this hairy twosome from Ohio as an entry-point into a scene that is no longer heard, defined and discussed in late night chat rooms by a sum total of five bespectacled, beflanneled tape geeks alone. Over the course of the 11 songs on Attack and Release, guitarist-vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney take a fearless journey through many broad genre classifications from country to heavy classic rock, landing hard punches for both sides of the car-in-a-pool/canvas shoes divide. We’re set up for the madness to come with a melancholically cantering country refrain (as Auerbach, uncannily channelling My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, suitably chimes “Take a step before running”) on ‘All You Ever Wanted,’ two calm verses that end by bursting into a wailing organ as if to set up the hurtling regression with which ‘I Got Mine’ begins. The chunkiest of riffs, this is one of the two or three songs that’re more likely to linger in playlists long after the rest of AnR falls away. But before you can say Tom Morello, we’re already in ‘Strange Times,’ and it sounds like an early Black Sabbath outtake juxtaposed against a bridge that could just as easily have been written by Spoon. There are surprises elsewhere too, on the memorably affecting soul tune ‘Lies,’ on ‘Same Old Thing’ with its scruffy guitar and flute stabs and in the groovy chorus on ‘So He Won’t Break.’ The disc closes with two strong melodies, the smoky ‘Oceans & Streams’ and ‘Things Ain’t Like They Used To Be,’ which has a fair bit of the mellower Robert Plant in it. All the rough glory and indie inclination to warble and go ambient is shaped throughout by golden-boy Danger Mouse’s characteristic production, making this a sneakily powerful record that’s best heard loud loud loud, and with the windows thrown wide open.

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