Black Keys ‘attack’ new ‘release’ with help of Danger Mouse with good results

Brenna McNamara

Credit: Ron Soltys

The Black Keys’ first album produced in a studio is a few good tweaks different than their classic, blues-rock modus operands.

The duo’s teaming with producer Danger Mouse is the lemon twist in a martini — the necessary zest the Keys needed after releasing four albums.

Although Danger is known for his work with hip-hop (Gnarls Barkley, Gorrilaz’s Demon Days, Jay Z’s The Grey Album), his introduction of new sounds is unique and perfectly meshable with the Keys’ quintessential grittiness, creating a just right revamp of roots-rock.

Attack and Release is minimalist and earthy, but with a reinvented poignancy and clarity in details and textures. Most songs have some sort of curve ball, whether backing vocals (Kent’s own Jessica Lea Mayfield sings quietly in the last track), clapping or subtle instruments.

The first track, “All You Ever Wanted,” showcases an acoustic guitar and organ, exemplifying the meshing of new instruments with the same ol’ Keys feeling. A favorite, “Psychotic Girl,” is eerie and slinky with the pairing of a psychedelic banjo, heavy-eyed drums and Dan Auerbach’s aching vocals. The jazzy “Same Old Thing” uses flutes, contrasting the lyrics that depict a “callous heart.” A perky xylophone adds the perfect detail to the Tom Waits-ish “So He Won’t Break.”

Backing vocals are used in a lot of the songs, ranging from a ghostly choir to barely noticeable.

“Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be,” is a stunning and wonderfully lonesome close to the album. Auerbach’s voice is poignant as he sings of a parted lover, with the distant harmony of Mayfield lingering.

It’s not odd that the album ended so grimly, as the first line of the album is “Ain’t it just like dyin’ / except you can still feel the shame.” The dejected theme of being worn down by the world and a lover is just the same old blues — but his voice! Auerbach has never sounded so perfect.

The evolution of The Black Keys is immense. Sonic enhancements allow the Keys to sparkle. The duo has mentioned before that they were skeptical of working with someone else. But when Danger Mouse approached them to collaborate on an album for Ike Turner, the Keys started putting together some of the base of what is now Attack and Release. When Turner died unexpectedly, they decided to use the material and continue to work with Danger Mouse.

To work with such a producer always comes with the fear of the original touch of the artist will be erased, but The Black Keys only shine on.

Real quick

The Black Keys

Attack and Release

Released by Nonesuch

Stater rating (out of five): ****

Contact all reporter Brenna McNamara at [email protected].