After demonstrating over four albums a talent for playing raw garage blues, the Black Keys faced a tricky situation with their fifth release: how to freshen the band’s sound without losing the essence of what makes the Akron, Ohio, duo so electrifying.
The answer lay with Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, the producer who blended the Beatles with Jay-Z on his pirate release “The Grey Album” and then became half of the future-soul duo Gnarls Barkley.
Pairing themselves with Danger Mouse was an inspired choice for Black Keys singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. “Attack & Release” is a stunning extension of the pair’s sound, injecting an element of nuance into the bare-bones guitar-drums framework that remains the core of the band.
Instead of late-night blues-noir, Auerbach and Carney explore a parched summer afternoon feel on the hazy opener, “All You Ever Wanted,” an acoustic-based number that erupts into a wash of electric guitar, bass and swirling organ. The old blues-stomp flavor remains on “I Got Mine” and “Lies,” but the Keys turn up the hard-rock raunch with the pummeling riff on “Strange Times” and ride a hard-edged soul groove on “Oceans & Streams.”
Organ and bass are big enough changes, but they’re not the only ones. “Attack & Release” is also the first Black Keys record to feature guest performers, including Danger Mouse plinking out a woozy piano line on “Psychotic Girl,” Marc Ribot playing guitar solos on a pair of tunes, Carla Monday and Jessica Lea Mayfield singing harmony vocals and Carney’s uncle, Ralph Carney, adding jawharp, flute and clarinet to a handful of songs.
With its varied sound and newly expansive songwriting, “Attack & Release” is a bold, but fitting, way for the Black Keys to prove they know more than one way to make a statement.
(Photo by James Carney)