The Black Keys/El Camino
This record is a smash, opening with the first single ‘Lonely Boy’. Out on December 6th, the fourth record with Nonesuch, The Black Keys’ seventh studio album El Camino is an advanced sound of their body of work. Produced by Danger Mouse [whose hands have been in projects as far back as The Grey Album and as soon as this year’s Rome with Daniele Luppi] and the duo themselves, El Camino is full of production. [Finally a band that uses panning!] The detail in recording is so heavy that you barely notice it. Seamless layers of Auerbach’s dirty guitar mingle with hand claps and chorus. Patrick Carney will always stand out as one of the most underrated rock drummers. He is concise and holds it together. Tight, unusual drum fills back up raunchy guitar solos and that raspy croon – the Keys’ signature sound.
The only complaints about this band remain that all their music sounds the same and blends into one. But El Camino gives us a varied song structure and, if possible, shows off better use of their instruments. The Black Keys use the same sounds, yes. But they make memorable records where each stands out on its own. Auerbach and Carney have been perfecting their craft for ten years, from their cover of ‘She Said She Said’ on their debut The Big Come Up in 2002 to the heavily underrated twangs found on 2008’s Attack & Release.
Track four, ‘Little Black Submarines’ [below], shows off Auerbach’s tender acoustic side [much like parts of his 2009 solo effort Keep It Hid]. While you fall in love with it just long enough, the fender rhodes smoothing you over in the background, electricity kicks in with riffs, solos and more standout drumming from Carney. It gives us two versions of the same song on the same track. The Black Keys showed us on Brothers that they can make a record where not only is every track a hit, but is also built on smarts. El Camino is full of them: ‘Money Maker’, ‘Stop Stop’, ‘Gold On The Ceiling’ and b-side single ‘Run Right Back’ all flaunt their hooks – but this time with wah wahs and gender-mixed choruses while all are coated with meticulous musicianship.
Savoring this rock is hard. The only thing you can do wrong is play it too much, too soon. First you’ll bob your head, then you’ll sing along and soon enough you’ll find yourself dancing. [It’s never too soon for choreography.] With hand claps on ‘Sister’, the charming, destroyed love of broken hearts are washed away on the grunge channel, The Black Keys way. Sometimes the guitar is too perfect. It sounds like a machine. Carney’s drums morph towards the close of ‘Hell Of A Season’ [below] and sound industrial. It’s refreshing.
The Black Keys know their place as producers, musicians and marketers. They are here to rock backing up traditional styles and sounds with original design and personal touch. Blues rock is meant for every season and every age. Loud music was meant to be heard this way, in excellence. El Camino has keys layered with guitars, heartache, and if you listen close enough, the portrait of every small rock club you hope to see. Carney and Auerbach are longtime friends and have been writing together since the beginning. While they both have had their hands in other projects, it is here where they belong. And it is here, where I hope they’ll stay. You can pre-order at their website while admiring every tasteful minivan of the past.