Midnight Album Spotlight: The Black Keys – Attack & Release

Greetings. I’m Michele Myers. Every Friday night at 9pm I choose sets of music and spin a show on KEXP called Nite Life. And later on in the show at 12, I do the Midnight Album Spotlight.

This week it’s a new record by The Black Keys called Attack and Release. I’ve been a fan of this band from Ohio for years. Their gritty, organic guitars and vocals just seem so real. Like raw gold hacked from a hillside. On the new record, producer Danger Mouse (who is one-half of the duos Gnarls Barkley and Dangerdoom, two of the world’s best funky outfits) has helped them refine their sound. Somehow Danger Mouse has taken simple layers of the Black Keys’ instrumentation and used those pure sounds to create a new dynamic. The record is still as gritty as their earlier work, but it’s somehow more fluid, more sensitive, and as an album it is more of a whole experience. Attack and Release flows over you, with its rough pulses, its pure drives, from start to end.

This project involving Danger Mouse and The Black Keys was planned as a collaboration with Ike Turner. Yes, the infamous R&B villain Ike Turner (formerly of Ike and Tina Turner. And what DOES love have to do with it?). The band’s members Dan Auerbach (guitars, vocals) and Patrick Carney (drums, percussion) were to write songs and perform them with Ike. But Ike died at the end of last year. And Danger Mouse and The Keys decided to continue the project.

Danger Mouse was the first producer to oversee a Black Keys record. The band had always recorded in basements or factories or the like, but now were in a pro studio. Dangermouse encouraged them to add guests and two members of the Tom Waits band are on this album: guitar-player Marc Ribot and Patrick’s uncle — multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney.

Attack and Release is, I feel, the most thoughtful, lyrically of the Black Keys albums. It’s so interesting to see these gritty, bluesy rockers at their most poetic. It’s about the personal and the public, the past and the present. Check out the lyrics to the song “Strange Times”:

Kings and sons of god
Traveled on their way from here
Calmin restless mobs
easing all of their, all of their fear

Strange Times
Are Here

The statue in the square
meant so much when it first stood
people come from far and near
bless them if, bless them if it would

Strange Times
Are Here

Sadie, dry your tears
I will be the one
to pull you through the mere
before you come, before you come undone

Strange Times
Are Here

Join Michele Myers for Nite Life every Friday night at 9pm. She also produces KEXP Documentaries, short radio features on KEXP-type musical subjects.

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