At once old-timey but forward-thinking, the 11 songs on Attack & Release boast the intimate homegrown shagginess of the Black Keys' previous releases, but with numerous nuanced musical and production shimmers winningly integrated by producer Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz).
The Black Keys — the Akron, Ohio-based duo of guitarist-vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney — have been termed "medium-fi" blues rock, but Attack & Release will add several more descriptions to that now too-limiting category. Dimensional and creative, with some trip-hoppier moments working well with banjo, organ, flute and more traditional Black Keys elements, the duo succeeds in opening up more without selling out.
"I Got Mine" boasts the fuzzy tones and blues authenticity of former label mate R.L. Burnside, while on the captivating "Strange Times," Auerbach shares a plaintive, sometimes mystical vocal quality and musical sensibility with producer/singer Chris Goss' band, late '80s-early '90s stoner rockers Masters of Reality. Other tunes, like on "Lies," they mesh an epic quality with a timeless immediacy, making it lush, visual and "soundtrack-y" in the best David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino sense, while an interesting aural exercise is two versions of the same song: The delicate yearning of "Remember When (Side A)" gets revved- and raved-up as 'Remember When (Side B)."
On the melancholy album closer, "Things Ain't Like They Used to Be," Auerbach is joined, beautifully, by 18-year-old bluegrass/country singer Jessica Lea Mayfield. And it's those "extras" that make Attack & Release shine. It's said that the majority of the Black Keys' 2003 album Thickfreakness was recorded in 14 hours during one day, while Attack & Release took about a month. And the extra time, production and players — including guitarist Marc Ribot and multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney — worked to fine effect. The Black Keys have put one foot out of the basement and into the light...without shedding their underground skins in the process.
The Black Keys play Tuesday, April 15, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak; 248-399-2980.
Katherine Turman writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]