The Black Keys: Attack & Release

By: Dennis Cook

This crawls into your marrow and disturbs your rest. It's not the blues but it's gone drinking with them. For sure, it's rock 'n' roll but with a haunted echo behind even the good time pronouncements. The Black Keys couldn't have chosen a more apt title for their fifth album. This comes at you and then eases off, only to repeat the cycle again and again. As the groove progresses, one feels grappled and diddled, caressed and spanked, and if you just let them have their way with you it's gonna be a fine ol' time.

Originally intended as a song cycle for Ike Turner, there's plenty of pimp hand to Attack & Release (Nonesuch), as well as Turner's bizarro tunings and unexpected honesty. Ike would have sounded amazing if they'd wrangled him into recording with them – a likely career resurrection for the pariah – but Dan Auerbach (vocals, guitar, keys) and Patrick Carney (drums, percussion) make this dog howl just fine, helped along by producer/instigator Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley). Often built around simplistic phrases ("I got mine" or "Strange times are here") and positively Cro-Magnon hooks, in lesser hands much of this would be a little rote. But, The Black Keys are anything but rote, ever, and Attack refines their virtues and gooses their creative adrenal gland in a big way.

Both instantly accessible and a slow boil, the album operates on a lot of levels even when you don't think it is. One time you'll head-snap to the brutal MC5-esque riff on "I Got Mine" but the next pass it's the flower power psych cloud that drifts in around the two-minute mark that enchants. Danger Mouse fits them with undulating production accessorized by vintage keys (Celeste, Chamberlain, Hammond B-3) and a backward arching character that wrestles with the band's urge for modernity. Tension and relaxation is the tempo of the conversation that occurred in the studio. While the drums hit with sub-woofer shaking authority, the vocal line often teases, or when the percussion drops back the lyric bursts into a sharp cry. Auerback's vocals truly come into their own here, a gruff, gorgeous offspring of Savoy Brown's Chris Youlden and Robin Trower's James Dewar, a "Train To Nowhere" and a "Bridge of Sighs" echoing in the reaches of his delivery.

It doesn't hurt that the Keys have never written more clearly or effectively. "Psychotic Girl" is an aural carnival ride you can take over and over and still get a happy knot in your stomach. The Kinks-like "Remember When" is a two-part trip to rock's archetypal garage, and believe you me, the cooler is stocked and the amps go to 11. And if there's a sexier tune than "So He Won't Break" this year I'll be surprised; a wonderfully plaintive delivery and '60s Motown rhythm make for melancholy go-go, a theme song for sad strippers and lonely bedroom dancers. Everywhere, especially on closer "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," there's a longing for the redemption and solace found in another's arms, though touched by a desperate edge that's both dangerous and a little sad, and thus quite real.

It'd be easy enough to keep heaping praise on various elements, but suffice it to say the imagination and talent gathered on Attack & Release make it a shoe-in for Best of 2008 lists everywhere. Often that sounds like hype but in this case it's just a statement of fact. Once in a while quality just shines out in a way that can't be denied.

JamBase | Akron
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[Published on: 5/29/08]

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ndant703 Thu 5/29/2008 06:14AM
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What are people's thoughts on this album?? Ive only listened to it once or twice but came away very dissapointed and Im a Black Keys fan. A couple people have told me that the more you listen to it, the more it'll grow on you...I really hope thats the case.

horhay_achoa Thu 5/29/2008 06:23AM
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I love this album. I have been a Keys fan for years. This album is different, for sure, but I enjoy it just as much as the others. Can't wait to see them at Rothbury. They are also playing a festival in Pittsburgh on August 8-9 weekend. Aww yeah!

Chaloupka starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/29/2008 07:38AM
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Great album!

keenan41 starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/29/2008 07:41AM
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The album definitely grows on you. I'll listen to it a few times in a row and not notice. The only thing that is disappointing is that they played just over an hour in Boston to end a leg of their States tour. That sucked

laxma13951 Thu 5/29/2008 07:58AM
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At first I felt a little disappointed with this album, but that is because of the expectations that were set from listening to past albums. It's their most polished album and lacks much of their old raw grittiness, but that's not a bad thing. I now LOVE this album and have been listening to it constantly.

googerb Thu 5/29/2008 08:00AM
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Great album. I agree with the reviewer on all fronts. On this album the Keys break new creative ground but don't stray too far from their bluesy roots. If you want lo-fi Keys listen to Rubber Factory or Magic Potion, which are both great albums too.

RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/29/2008 09:25AM
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These guys are great. Cant wait for Rothbury and ACL!!! I've said it before but their live dvd is a great substitute if you cant make it to any of their shows this summer.

mcarroll starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/29/2008 10:41AM
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This is a great album. I'd have to say it is right up there with Thickfreakness as their best album, though I can't decide which I like better, yet.

yearziro starstarstarstarstar Thu 5/29/2008 04:41PM
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This album is outstanding

jimmy row Fri 5/30/2008 08:00AM
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FreeHawk starstarstarstarstar Fri 5/30/2008 04:02PM
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Another great album from The Black Keys. I was pleasantly surprised hearing marc ribot on more then 2 tracks. "Things Ain't What They Used To Be," there's a longing for the redemption and solace found in another's arms, though touched by a desperate edge that's both dangerous and a little sad, and thus quite real", I couldn't agree more for describing this song.

Dont be turned away Keys fans because its a "more polished" album, these guys should be around for a long time and this is just one of many great albums I hope they produce.

n-1 starstarstarstarstar Fri 5/30/2008 04:36PM
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sooooo hot right now!


thank god for crossover acts like this

catphish007 Fri 5/30/2008 08:37PM
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representin CrAkron.

TheDude247 Thu 6/5/2008 09:15AM
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this album smokes. love it & love the keys. can't wait for their red rocks show this summer...even if it is an opener.

RonCronDon starstarstar Sun 6/8/2008 03:43PM
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Bonnaroo to Rothbury to ACL^^ You actually posted a positive comment!? Keep up the good work buddy. I've listened to the album a couple times and all I can say is "Meh." nothing to spectacular IMHO.

Deadphans starstarstarstarstar Thu 6/12/2008 06:24PM
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This album is bad ass! The Keys are great. I downloaded a couple taped shows, and they are freakin awesome live. Cant wait to see them