Tuesday, March 4, 2008

leak of the week - attack & release

in an environment where innovation is often valued above competence and inspiration trumps talent, the black keys are bold iconoclasts, sticking to the same guns on attack & release that they first displayed on the big come up, an album that, in itself, bucked the trend of ingenuity above genius with its intensely throwback, medium-fidelity blues. no great lover of the blues myself, i picked up the band's third LP, rubber factory in 2004 mainly from peer pressure, and found it to be a well-written album, if not particularly tailored to my tastes. i listened to it time and time again, trying to become obsessed with their magic, but it wasn't an album i turned to for pleasure, and in time i gave up on the black keys and rubber factory. in 2006, i had no reason to feel differently about magic potion or chulahoma, yet, i (unsurprisingly) find myself drawn to, and a pleasurable listener of, the keys's most recent album, the leak of the week, attack & release. (incidentally, i'm listening to rubber factory at this very moment, and am very much enjoying it. maybe this is a new era for me and the black keys.)

there's no secret about my motivation for reevaluating the black keys at this point: it's not because dan auerbach has a new, bigger beard, or because attack & release is their first studio lp (don't ask me where the others were recorded), but because a man with platinum in his fingers was manning the helm on this new ship with an old sound. that man is brian burton, a.k.a. danger mouse, who, rather singlehandedly, has been behind some of the most innovative musical project in recent years. since redefining mashups with the grey album to inventing cyber soul as gnarls barkley, danger mouse has had his fingers in many pies. i had totally forgotten he produced the good, the bad, & the queen or a couple rapture songs, to say nothing of sparklehorse...i don't even know what that's all about. despite danger mouse's musical flexibility, the news that the black keys were going to be collaborating with brian burton for their fifth lp was met with both widespread shock and incredulity, especially with the news that ike turner would be involved. as the 'fork noted, his passing precludes his appearing on the album, but it didn't stop the project. and so, here we are, attack & release blasting, a generational bridge between a defiantly retro band and an unstoppably futuristic producer (have you heard "run" yet? that shit belongs in the 22nd century!), an album that has already changed my feelings towards this band after only a week.

it is worth noting that, despite the immediately obvious contributions of danger mouse, every song on attack & release was written by the keys themselves, patrick carney and dan auerbach. this knowledge tidbit is important for two reasons: firstly, it soothes the possible fear of a black keys traditionalist who worries that danger mouse may awkwardly reworked the band's sound, and secondly, because it relegates danger mouse to a nearly new role - after all, there are worlds of difference between producing hip hop and producing rock. yet in every instance on attack & release, danger mouse's touch is light but completely intrinsic to the song's overall effect. still, there is a division, at least at the top of the album, between songs that carry danger mouse's noticeable touch, and it's worth remembering that danger mouse is not the only contributor to this album. both marc ribot and ralph carney (patrick's uncle) joined the band in the studio, and attack & release has a tangible sense of depth (and not just because most tracks have bass in them). danger mouse's overall influence is felt, rather than heard, and the result is forceful and charismatic.

in many respects, the black keys are doing what they've always done, write kick ass blues songs with fire and grit - the only difference this time around is that more imaginations are in the mix. their influences mold the album differently, but don't forget that this is still a black keys record. unsurprisingly, however, the best songs on attack & release are the ones that were imagined by everyone. what the black keys lacked earlier was a real appreciation for details, and their intensely lo-fi sound didn't have any space for them. though they carried the blues into the 21st century, there wasn't much of the 21st century in their sound. this time things are different.

"strange times" & "oceans & streams"

attack & release comes out on nonesuch records on april 1.

note: a full review of attack & release will be prepared for its release date.

No comments: