Total Pageviews

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Black Keys: El Camino (Release Date: 12-6-2011)

        Of all of the indie-ish up-and-comers attacking today's mainstream music scene, The Black Keys are perhaps the group that has garnered the largest fan base. Sure, the likes of Vampire Weekend, Bon Iver, or Arcade Fire might be on as many or more ipods nationwide, but none of those acts can be played at parties, on long drives, during homework sessions, and amidst sultry times behind locked doors with equal aplomb. Some of this boils down to their less serious-minded outlook, but I would like to venture an additional reason of my own. More so than just about any musician working today, you know EXACTLY what you're getting when you put on a Black Keys album, and this complete and total lack of surprises allows one to tune out and tune back in as they please. Have you ever tried focusing on something else while listening to Arcade Fire's My Body is a Cage, or Bon Iver's Perth? Doesn't work too well, does it? Ever try having a conversation to The Black Key's last album, Brothers? The 15-track, hour-long affair is over before you know it. For a band that trades in grimy sexiness, The Black Key's sure do go down easily.

        There's a sense that they know this in El Camino's lead-off track and first single, Lonely Boy. The song is much more immediate than we're used to from the duo, faster off the blocks, and featuring a goofy, peppy guitar hook where grittier, more southern-leaning axe-playing usually takes place. The tune is a joyous shuffle, even if a listen or two is required to warm up to it. The chorus even has another unexpected trick waiting for us: as Guitarist/Frontman Dan Auerbach wails the line, "I've got a love that keeps me waiting. I'm a lonely boy," a choir of background singers joins in to help his proclamation hit that much harder. Follow-up Dead and Gone does nothing to take down the MPH, Drummer Patrick Carney pounding away to open the tune, Auerbach holding longer, bluesier notes than we knew he could handle. More pounding, more clapping, more mini-guitar solos, more background singers, and El Camino is steadily on track.

        But that's really just the thing, isn't it? The Black Keys are always firmly on track, one of the most consistent radio acts in years. El Camino certainly has some new tricks up its sleeve: Auerbach seems ten-fold more willing to mess with tuning and effects on his guitar, and Carney takes center stage far more frequently, his merciless pounding serving as the driving force behind Money Maker, Hell of a Season, and Nova Baby. And while this sense of experimentation is commendable, its, 'blast of fresh air,' runs out quickly when the band becomes too comfortable with using their new-found bells and whistles on every single track. Seriously, the background singers are present for just about every single song, and the mindless pounding that both band members take part in becomes a tad neanderthalic, if still worthy of a steady head-bob. While a noticeable departure from much of what they've done before, El Camino still falls in line with the band's other efforts in terms of the sort of lull of similarity that it slips into about midway through. If it's not painfully obvious by now, I've never been a huge fan of the band, but I certainly wouldn't call myself a detractor, either. I'm certain that the next party that I attend will feature at least one tune off of this disc, and I will be grateful for it, and nod my head along with everyone else. I just probably won't be listening to it on my own, trying to pick apart its eccentricities and minor details. That kind of fetishism is better reserved for bands who are harder to hold a conversation to.

Grade: B-

No comments:

Post a Comment