Obsess Much? : The Black Keys, Rhythm method

When you’re a fan of a band who have more than a couple of albums, there will inevitably be an album in the discography that doesn’t hit you quite like the others. Maybe there are a couple of songs that make you groove, but this album usually gets relegated to the bottom of the pile, given only an occasional spin. You probably even have this with your favorite band, the band you would give blood for. For instance, my excessive-to-the-point-of-being-obsequious apologies to the Afghan Whigs, but 1965 is the Whigs album I pull out the least. Even less than Up In It. There, I said it.

The Black Keys have put out six full albums and three EPs, not including BlakRoc or Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s side projects, and Thickfreakness kept sitting at the bottom of my stack. Thickfreakness, their second album and the first released on Fat Possum Records, has some very strong tracks, undoubtedly (and one of the best titles of all time). The title track, “Set You Free” and their cover of “Have Love, Will Travel” are fan favorites, and deservedly so. And their Junior Kimbrough covers are always excellent, represented here by “Everywhere I Go”. But, overall, this album left me feeling uninspired. It didn’t have the immediacy of The Big Come Up and did not yet show the desire to open up their sound and evolve that would begin to assert itself on Rubber Factory. So, when I would put Thickfreakness in the player, my attention would tend to drift off about four songs in.

Then the other day, I realized “I Cry Alone”, the minimalist closer of Thickfreakness, was playing in my head, demanding that I put the album on. This song is essentially all rhythm, with a heavy bass line following closely over Carney’s languid percussion, Auerbach’s vocals providing the melody. This song feels so thick and humid you’d think they recorded it down in Fat Possum’s homebase of northern Mississippi.

After a couple of listens to “I Cry Alone”, I realized there was another song with a great rhythm to it on this album. “Hold Me in Your Arms” opens with a boot-heel drag rhythm that starts out so slow and low that it turns muscle to jelly, only to build anticipation and speed as the song kicks off. As it stands, this sliding drag is my favorite part of this entire album and makes me wish for a collection of songs with this same kind of sleazy, oozing pulse.

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fsoundcloud.com%2Fnow-this-sound-is-brave%2F10-hold-me-in-your-arms&show_comments=true&auto_play=false&color=ff8700 Hold Me in Your Arms by The Black Keys

Tracking back earlier still on the album is “Hurt Like Mine”, with a see-saw guitar line and a beat that sounds as if it grew like a vine from beneath the floorboards of a run-down juke joint out in some Southern swamp. The sweaty buzzsaw of Auerbach’s guitar requires hips to grind along. If you can’t get lucky to this song, you might as well just barricade yourself in your room now with enough old episodes of Oprah and volumes of Chicken Soup for the Sadass Soul to get you through until death comes to call.

http://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fsoundcloud.com%2Fnow-this-sound-is-brave%2F06-hurt-like-mine&show_comments=true&auto_play=false&color=ff8700 Hurt Like Mine by The Black Keys

With this new-found appreciation of Thickfreakness, the Black Keys may be the only multi-album band I listen to who doesn’t have a least-played disc in my rotation, a feat not even accomplished by my most beloved Afghan Whigs or could-do-no-wrong-in-my-eyes Morphine.

The Black Keys will be playing the Nautica Pavillion – with Jessica Lea Mayfield opening – in Cleveland on July 24.

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