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.

Obsess Much? : Dan Auerbach never stops

Okay, in terms of making this Cadillac Sky Week at NTSIB, this may be cheating a little, but since it’s my blog and you can’t stop me…

Dan Auerbach – of Akron, Ohio’s the Black Keys, if you don’t know by now – loves music. This may seem an obvious thing to say about a musician, but it’s more true of some than others. To quote the man himself from his Nonesuch feature page, “I’m pretty obsessed with making music and with recording, I’m always thinking about it. It drives my family crazy. But it’s what I do.” Auerbach likes being on both sides of the recording console and in his “spare” time, he lends his help, and his home studio, to a long list of bands. Here is a gathering of Auerbach-produced songs from bands ranging in vibe from bluegrass to blues to punk.

Cadillac Sky – Nashville, Tennessee

Obviously, we here at NTSIB love these guys and encourage you, again, to pick up their new album, Letters in the Deep, and catch them live if at all possible.

Buffalo Killers – Cincinnati, Ohio

Hacienda – San Antonio, Texas
You might also recognize these guys as the Fast Five, the name they used when touring as Auerbach’s support band on his solo tour. They’ll be in Cleveland, Ohio, at the Beachland Ballroom on June 19 when they open for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

SSM – Detroit, Michigan

Patrick Sweany – Nashville, Tennessee

The Ettes – Nashville, Tennessee

Radio Moscow – Story City, Iowa

Brimstone Howl – Omaha, Nebraska

Jessica Lea Mayfield – Kent, Ohio
Jessica is gearing up to release a third album, and the early word fro
m her brother David is that it is mind-blowing. She’ll be opening for the Black Keys when they play Nautica in Cleveland on July 24.

Obsess Much? : The Black Keys, All times are now

I had already planned to obsess some more about the Black Keys, and specifically about how the biggest reason I love Dan Auerbach is because he is a music sponge, today when I learned that NPR Music had posted the new Black Keys album Brothers in their “First Listen” feature.

Let me just get this out of the way now: I am in love with this album. Every song hits me in a way that gets me excited. These 55 minutes of music go by far too fast.

(And if you put on your headphones and turn “Howlin’ For You” up loud enough, it sounds like the walls are coming down around you. Spectacular.)

Okay, now I’ll try to calm down enough to formulate coherent thought.

I’m going to start off by apologizing to Patrick Carney for excluding him so often when I talk about the music of the Black Keys. The Black Keys would not be the Black Keys without Carney – you can’t just Spinal Tap another drummer into his place. He is a monster of a hitter and one of the few drummers who makes me sit up and take notice (I may be nursing dreams about an Ohio supergroup with dual drummers: Carney and Sam Meister of mr. Gnome. I haven’t even thought about who else I’d put in that lineup because I can’t get past how mind-blowingly awesome it would be to have Carney and Meister together). But I think it’s safe to say that much of the Black Keys sound can be contributed to Auerbach.

It’s no secret that Auerbach is heavily influenced by the blues – especially the late Junior Kimbrough, the Black Keys’ Chulahoma album being a love letter to the man who set Auerbach on the path that took him to where he is today – and Brothers is drenched with soul. Both of these genres can feel like, and be treated as, relics, but they have never felt dated when filtered through Auerbach’s lens. One reason for this is that he is not precious about what he creates. The Keys are known for being quick and dirty about recording their albums, getting the heart that comes out of an unpolished, from-the-gut performance, resisting the temptation to slick things up to make them perfect (a move which can easily result in soulless noise), creating a base from which their music can change and evolve.

Another reason goes back to what I wrote earlier about Auerbach being a music sponge. Taking into consideration all the music the Black Keys have created, all the music they have produced for others and Auerbach’s solo work, it is obvious that Auerbach listens to everything, from all genres and all eras. And it seems that, where music is concerned for Auerbach, all times are now. Music created even before the dawn of recording is just as current as the most recent mp3 posted to the internet. For Auerbach, music is alive. All of it. Living and breathing just as strongly now as when the first beat was thumped out or the first string was plucked. The blood still flows, and Auerbach adds a few drops of his own red to this gushing stream.

NPR Music First Listen: The Black Keys, Brothers

Obsess Much? : The Black Keys, Magic Potion

Obsess Much? is a new feature wherein I will do what I do best, the very thing that led me to start this blog in the first place: completely fixate on one artist/album/genre/enclave/whatever and talk on and on and on about it, sharing information and opinions with anyone in shouting distance, whether they like it or not.

You’re loving it already, right?

So whomever/whatever I’m obsessing on, whether a new artist or an act who has been around for a while or a band who aren’t even together anymore, I will share my enthusiasm in unnecessarily great detail.

Regular readers may have noticed that, since the Black Keys posted their new song “Tighten Up” from their forthcoming album Brothers on their MySpace page, I have been hardcore about all things coming from these two, sharp Akron boys. As an Ohioan who seems to be subconsciously drawn to acts from Ohio, I have been listening to and loving the Black Keys for a long time, but it is only with this current wave of fixation that I have nearly completed my Black Keys collection (Brothers is on pre-order in both the vinyl and deluxe CD editions, so I just have to obtain Feel Good Together, the album from Pat Carney’s side project, Drummer). The last album I picked up was Magic Potion.

I had gathered that MP was not a well-received album – at least not with critics – and I let that scare me off of picking it up for a while. Now that I have it and have listened to it repeatedly (approximately 15 times this past weekend – these guys have a knack for making music I want to listen to over and over immediately), I can’t say I understand why. It is hot. In terms of the music, it is the sexiest album they’ve made so far. Lyrically, it was the beginning of a personal rawness that continued on their next album, Attack and Release. “The Flame” may be the best song about being hurt again and again until one’s heart grows numb ever written.

Reading some of the lukewarm reviews from its release, I think the problem reviewers had with it was the classic “Oh no! It’s different from what they’ve done before!” issue because Magic Potion was the album where they began to evolve their sound beyond the blues, the sound that makes Attack and Release my favorite album of theirs so far. And, too, I think critics had a problem with the tempo of MP being slower – there aren’t as man foot-stompers as on the other albums, but I think the evidence within the songs (and backed up by the fact that Dan’s list of thank-yous in the liner notes do not, for the first time, include a certain female name that had been included on all previous albums) points to this being the result of the break-up of a long-term relationship. You’re just not going to make a big-rockin’ album when your years-long relationship has disintegrated.

Of course, there is also the problem that self-proclaimed music critics tend to focus on the wrong aspects of music and/or are dumb. Note this typically what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you line from Pitchfork’s review: ‘There’s very little spark to early sequenced numbers “Your Touch”[…]’ I’m sorry, what? Are we thinking of the same song here, dude, because, I don’t know about anyone else, but that song has always eaten my head with its awesomocity. (The review also dismisses “Strange Desire” for rhyming “desire” with “fire”. This is not uncommon for a Pitchfork review, but it still amazes me when they pull out that kind of crap.)

So, Magic Potion: don’t believe the anti-hype.