written by Chris Familton, reviewed for FasterLouder
Six full length albums in 8 years is a pretty impressive hit rate in these times of promotional release cycles. The work ethic of The Black Keys and their fertile creativity has seen then long outlast the early criticism that they were riding on the guitar/drums duo bandwagon. Many of course have followed in their well trodden path but none have managed to retain a freshness of sound and the ability to sound genuinely in tune with their music and its historical antecedents.
Brothers sees Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney setting up camp at the legendary Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama, a location that has left a deep and soulful imprint on the sound and mood of the album. They invest in some heavy groove workouts throughout that suggest a foray into psychedelic rhythm and blues, more-so than they ever have done previously. Black Mud is an instrumental gumbo mix of churning organ and bass with an almost Hendrix/Santana wah-led guitar casting spells over the simmering stew.
The side projects that preceded Brothers have also played a role in its shape. Both members released solo albums as well as having time to work up the blues/rock/hip hop collaboration Blakroc with a range of MCs that included Mos Def and QTip. That album in particular segues nicely into some of the rolling grooves the duo lay down on Brothers. Too Afraid To Love You would be perfectly suited for Blakroc with its lazy, head-nodding drums and noir keys. By the same token Sinister Kid comes across like a Beastie Boys/Beck hybrid with its minimalist funk and chanting vocals.
The brilliance of Brothers is the way Carney and Auerbach subtly shift gears between songs and styles. Taken as a whole it comes across like blues funk fusion but look closer and you begin to hear a real soul base to the songs. Small details like the keyboard flourishes and the general bigger band feel mean The Black Keys have stepped away from their blues rock beginnings to really embrace funk, southern soul, r n b and that specific 60s pop sound that emerged from all of these genres. I’m Not The One could be sung by anyone from Otis Redding to Aretha Franklin or Stevie Wonder and still sound like a stone cold classic. The one cover on the album is a telling one. Never Gonna Give You Up is a time warp back to the sound of Muscle Shoals, Stax and Motown, with some added grit and a dash of the blues.
When The Black Keys slow things down they can generate the same energy and feeling in their songs. These Days is like Ray LaMontagne fronting Mazzy Star while a song like The Go Getter manages to sound like a New Orleans saloon tune and a futuristic funk track all at the same time.
Of course among all these delicious deviations the heart of The Black Keys is still alive and beating on their heavy funk tracks like Next Girl, the glam fun of Howlin’ For You and the falsetto stomp of opener Everlasting Light. The most infectious moment on the album comes in the form of Ten Cent Pistol with its Ernest Ranglin guitar melody and some wonderful sounding drum work on the toms form Carney. The song creates its own time and space and sits within it absolutely perfectly.
Eschewing garage rock for most of Brothers has allowed the duo to stretch their canvas and introduce a wider sound to their songs. The influence of side projects and (consciously or not) the studio they used is integral to the intoxicating feel and mood of the album and a sign that Auerbach and Carney see a more diverse and perhaps longer future in front of them than previous albums might have suggested.