Music

The Black Keys: Attack & Release

Dan and Patrick have decided to abandon the old blues garage for a more modernized one, but they somehow manage to retain most of the dirt and musty smell.


The Black Keys

Attack & Release

Label: Nonesuch
US Release Date: 2008-04-01
UK Release Date: 2008-03-31
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After four very enjoyable albums that had the same nasty ambience, the Black Keys (Dan Auerbach on guitar and vocals, Patrick Carney on drums) decided it was time to alter their modus operandi. They still wanted to retain that "blues-garage-rock" sound, but wanted to throw in a few curveballs that would strengthen their repertoire as more than just pitching high, hard heat. (Sorry for the baseball parlance, but the season is upon us.) And they have the late Ike Turner to thank for what became their latest release, Attack & Release.

From the rubber factories, basements and garages of the duo's hometown of Akron, Ohio, the Black Keys have slowly and steadily risen in popularity. They are so beloved by one Jonny Greenwood (of Radiohead) that he asked the dynamic duo to open some shows for the lads of Oxford during their 2005 tour. (Believe me, it was one hell of a juxtaposition to go from the Keys to the 'Head.) A quick glance at the band's website theblackkeys.com shows that their upcoming tour has a lot of sellouts, especially in the western half of the U.S.

What makes the Black Keys so endearing? It starts with two very talented musicians. Auerbach's guitar work is simply magnificent, once you realize he's playing both the low-end rhythm and the lead at the same time on the same guitar. His vocals have the perfect blues "hurt". Carney keeps the Keys' engine chugging along. I've said this many times before: if you watch him live on stage, his drumming style reminds one of Animal, the crazed drummer from the Muppets TV show, legs and arms akimbo. Carney's style may be unique, but the heaviness and precision he adds to each song is as important as Auerbach's contributions.

So how does Ike Turner come into play? It seems that hip-hop producer Danger Mouse, a fan of the Keys, approached the duo and asked if they would write some songs for an album he was going to produce for Turner. Auerbach and Carney obliged, but as the process was rolling along, Turner died of a heart attack. Auerbach and Carney took another look at what they had written, and realized that the songs were definitely in the "Black Keys style", so they decided to use that material for their own release. But both felt the need to expand their sound, so they asked the Mouse if he would produce the disc. That led Danger Mouse to Cleveland, and in turn, led to the 11 songs that comprise Attack & Release.

It doesn't take long to see this is an atypical Black Keys album. The opening track, "All I Ever Wanted", is the breaking ball in the dirt when you were expecting a fastball. First, the song is slow and gentle in its demeanor. And then, you hear -- wait for it -- an acoustic guitar. The drums start off muted, and the only electric guitar is echoing in the background. And then, out of nowhere, comes -- wait for it again -- an organ coda to close the song out. Not only did the boys go out of their comfort zone in terms of using an outside producer, a "real" recording studio, guest musicians (Marc Ribot and Ralph Carney, both integral to Tom Waits…and Carney just happens to be Patrick's uncle), and odd instruments not normally heard on a Black Keys album, but they even went outside their blues-garage-rock umbrella.

Some of the songs ("Remember When – Side A", "So He Won't Break") have the vibe of the '50s and early '60s. Want some country influence? The closing track, "Things Ain't What They Used to Be", replete with pedal steel and backing vocals from Jessica Lea Mayfield, an 18-year-old bluegrass and country singer, fits the bill nicely, as does "All I Ever Wanted". Want to see what's in the old garage? Listen to "I Got Mine" and "Remember When – Side B".

The instrumental additions are mind-blowing. Aside from the aforementioned acoustic guitar and organ, you can pick up a banjo coda opening "Psychotic Girl". Bass guitar permeates a few tracks, and is at the forefront of "Same Old Thing"; it's sort of like they want you to be aware there's a bass there, and it's in your face. This is, of course, after the Jethro Tull-style intro to the song (translation: a flute!). A constant sonar ping -- one you hear underwater -- runs through "Oceans and Streams" (how convenient!). A vibraphone can be heard in the background of "So He Won't Break".

With Danger Mouse producing this album, all these sounds have purpose. Nothing is superfluous, and after a few listens, you'll notice they do not detract from the song, but rather add a new dimension. Of course, there are bits of programmed drums and handclaps, putting a little urban in the mix. This is not the first time the Keys have had handclaps in a song, though. Go back to "Just Couldn't Tie Me Down" from Rubber Factory for the first time handclaps appeared in a Black Keys song.

Anyone who has heard and enjoyed previous Black Keys releases will be in for a shock the first time they hear Attack & Release. In fact, it'll likely be the first few times you hear this that you'll just shake your head in amazement. But after allowing the shock to wear off after one or two full listens, and considering how they made all the extra instrumentation part of their sound, you'll see that the core of each song is still purely Auerbach's guitar and voice, and Carney's drums. Most of the extras are window dressing. Surprisingly, the overall sound is the cleanest it's been for a Black Keys album. Every instrument comes through crisp, clear, and vibrant.

Attack & Release is the sound of Auerbach and Carney doing some slight tweaking... alright, a nearly complete overhaul of their musical philosophy. They still rely on drums and guitar as their mainstays to each song. The wonderful surprise about all the extra instrumentation is that it enhances what they normally do. Credit Danger Mouse for walking a tightrope between doing just enough and doing too much. This probably isn't an album that you'll love right off the bat if you're a fan of the Black Keys. But after a few spins, it starts to take root in your musical soil, and then grows huge. For the two Akronites, Attack & Release is a musical grand slam, and their career is one long winning streak.

8

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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