Saturday, December 31, 2011

Black Keys zoom down your alleyway with El Camino

The Black Keys are bluesy, ballsy, and best of all, they're back. The Akron, Ohio, natives were saluted for their adherence to good old fashioned rock music on their 2010 breakthrough Brothers, and El Camino makes no effort to radically break away from that blueprint.

The Black Keys pull no punches and raise no smokescreens. Mixing rock, blues, and slight tinge of soul, El Camino is the band's decleartion that this is who they are and what they do, and like it or not, this is how it's going to be. Although I've got a strong feeling you're going to like it.

The opening notes of "Lonely Boy" are raw, loud and uncompromising, and set the stage for what's to come. Big, catchy choruses serve as the meat and potato of the album, but each verse gives Dan Auerbach a chance to display his patented hipness that gives the music a slight indie vibe.

If you like rock guitar, "Gold on the Ceiling" will be your wet dream.  It opens with some great riffing before breaking out a grooving keyboard piece. You'll quickly find yourself bopping your head to the groove of the chorus, but the best part yet is the slick little guitar lead that comes right after.

For the most part, El Camino sticks to a pretty strict formula. "Little Black Submarines" is one of the few times when the script is set aside.The acoustic guitar, coupled with Auerbach's seraching vocal, calls to mind the softer, folky side of Led Zeppelin. It's a buildup to the second half, where the fuzzy wall of guitar feeback begins to cascade upon your earbuds, and Patrick Carney capitalizes with some oh so perfect fills. This leads to a feeling of pure catharsis when Auerbach cuts loose during the final verse and chorus. It's tough to think that Jimmy Page himself wouldn't be impressed. 

The Black Keys also bring a bit of soul to the table with "Stop Stop," which sounds like it could be a Temptations song. The main riff is a slice of funkadelic heaven, the bells in the chorus provide a flavor of old school Motown, and when Auerbach hits that high note you'll be ready to boogie like it's 1976.

El Camino is relatively straightforward and tends to rely heavily on its choruses, which can cause the album to feel a bit repetitive at times.  But it is very, very catchy and is well executed piece of rock with a remarkable amount of zing. Hats off to El Camino -- it is one of the best records of the year.

Score: 87/100

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