Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Review: The Black Keys - CD/DVD

CD: Attack & Release (* * * *)

Somehow, I managed to get through most of 2008 (though not all of it, fortunately) without hearing much of The Black Keys latest effort, Attack & Release, the duo's fifth full-length album. Long the flag-bearers of old-school meat 'n' potatoes rock in modern times, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of Akron, OH have shaken things up a bit this time around with the (in)famous Danger Mouse heading up the production duties. The result is a slightly more stylish and sleek version of The Black Keys typical guitar and drum barrage.

Though hardcore fans and rock purists might balk at Danger Mouse's production flourishes (flute, keys, exotic-sounding background vocals, etc.), Attack & Release feels like a necessary step in the evolution of the band. The difference becomes most apparent on the album's slower tracks, where the details give the songs layers of depth behind the typical guitar/drum/voice combo. The opener "All You Ever Wanted" floats along amid hazy vocals and acoustic guitars, while "Psychotic Girl" combines banjo, piano, and what sounds like a haunted choir in a psychedelic slow-burner. Of course, what would a Black Keys record be without some down 'n' dirty rock songs. "I Got Mine" and "Remember When (Side B)" eschew any flowery studio tricks for simple six-string assaults.

Though both the highs and the lows on Attack & Release succeed, some of the most enjoyable moments are made when the duo find a balance between their aggressive rock and slow, meandering blues styles. "So He Won't Break" and "Oceans & Streams" are solid, mid-tempo tunes with plenty of soul and just a little extra production that really hits the spot, while the closer "Things Ain't Like They Used To Be" is a lonely ballad featuring guest vocals by Jessica Lea Mayfield that wraps things up nicely.

While The Black Keys might not grab you quite the way they used to, Auerbach and Carney have taken steps to avoid complacency and remain a vital, relevant rock 'n' roll presence.


DVD: Live At The Crystal Ballroom (* * * * 1/2)

Known for their explosive live performances and their ability to draw an impressive crowd wherever they go, The Black Keys now give those of us who have missed out thus far (or those hoping to relive the experience) a concert DVD of their show on April 4, 2008 at The Crystal Ballroom.

It's remarkable how two men can produce so much noise and energy on stage. Right from the beginning notes of "Same Old Thing," Auerbach and Carney kick things into high gear and never let up throughout 17 songs lasting just over an hour. This performance displays the band at their most simple and primal, with no other musicians taking the stage and Auerbach only once trading in his guitar for the keyboard (though it was so fuzzed out, it was practically the same thing). Occasionally the duo take some time to jam for a bit which is fun for a live show, but they know where to draw the line and manage to keep things focused.

The duo don't waste much time on chit-chat besides the obligatory "thanks so much" and "we love being here" kind of thing, they just gave the people what they wanted, real rock 'n' roll. No pretension, no distractions (well, besides the multi-colored light show), and no dull moments. Auerbach stomps and sways, howling into the microphone while Carney pounds away. And the crowd? They love every minute of it.

As an introduction to The Black Keys or as a reminder of their greatness, Live At The Crystal Ballroom is the band at their absolute best.

For more information on the tracklist and a live track download, check out my earlier post.