There is no doubt the two principle creative forces at work on _Brothers_ the new album from The Black Keys, have reached a new level of synergy in the studio. Though obviously more produced than the raw sounds of previous efforts, _Brothers_ does not touch the music too much to take the sound into the realm of “overproduced.” There are layers here that are subtle and appropriate – widening their sound to a level that makes it seem even more impossible that so much good stuff could come from just two people – but rest assured, it has.
But we should not be surprised. Talent the likes of Jack Black have taught us in recent years that our use of musical tropes can be entertaining enough when raw and don’t necessarily have to be super-collided into a Spector “Wall of Sound” to be good rock and roll. The Black Keys have taken a similar approach to Black of the White Stripes in many ways. Recent solo efforts from both and multiple side projects had led many to suggest a drifting apart of the pair and an end to The Black Keys much in the same way The White Stripes seem to have been replaced by The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs for White. Not so, say the duo – and the proof is in the pudding with this primarily Muscle Shoals recorded solid proof of growth and presence that may finally make it so people STOP comparing them to the White Stripes.
In the ears of this listener, The Black Keys have officially taken the next step with this raw sound movement, refining it into a rich, textured – yet still very raw – smoothness where other acts have missed the mark by heading into the realm of the “overproduced” – The Strokes come to mind. It is this kind of “aged” smoothness that White was not able to accomplish or didn’t allow (or at least didn’t bother to because he was too busy with other projects).
Like drinking straight from the still, The White Stripes often left one choked in fumes, as did much of the early work of The Black Keys. But the spirits bottled on _Brothers_ have spent some time mellowing and maturing in the oak barrels of accomplished studio mixing without losing their edge. With a distinct nose of grittier Beatles and aftertaste that leaves one remembering some of the dirtier moments from Los Lobos via _Colosal Head_, this album has paid the appropriate respect to the past while adding the edge of the present that we have come to expect from the raw sound movement.
_Brothers_ may end up being overshadowed by a number of other quality releases this month from very talented acts – Band of Horses comes to mind – but in the ears of this listener, The Black Keys have hit on a solid stride that should put this album squarely in the lexicon of the development of modern music. It may be that it will find more value in retrospect than popularly right now, but have no doubt – this is a game changer in many ways and puts Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney firmly in heavens as recording stars. Not only that, but as producers, with Danger Mouse showing up for only one track on this effort. This opens up the future for them to act, as White has, not just as talented artists in their own right, but as curators of the future of music to the masses.
What do you think? Will the Black Keys finally come out of the shadow of the White Stripes?