The Black Keys breakout with new album “Brothers”

Logan McMillen

A grungy, dingy, dirty, overly-sexualized stomp of a back beat opens the Black Keys latest album, “Brothers.” The cooler, younger sibling of the famously overrated White Stripes may finally eclipse the band that launched quirky, blues-rock back into the (relative) mainstream.

When they broke onto the Midwest scene in late 2001, no one would’ve expected a couple of well-versed blues-punks from Akron, Ohio to go anywhere with their music…I was one of those people. I heard “The Big Come Up” (their first album), and made some faces normally reserved for mid-day soap operas and seeing your father naked. I was naive.

“Attack and Release” (their seventh album) was marked by the heavy influence of producer/musician Danger Mouse (of Gnarls Barkley fame). Layers and layers of blips and grey noise were added to the final mix of the album, adding a certain faux-organic quality that the music needed. Pair that with some subtle bluegrass instrumentation, and voila, “Attack and Release.”

Let me just preface by saying that “Brothers” is no “Attack and Release.” If you listen to it, you must go in with the mindset that you are about to listen to a completely different band. A lot of the instrumentation and style are the same, but the manner in which they are executed falls a bit more on the dark blues/soul side of things.

Evoking both parts Amy Winehouse and Blind Lemon Jefferson, the Black Keys have turned the first single from “Brothers” (“Tighten Up”) out to much an indie buzz. The relative control and conciseness of this track seems a bit unnatural compared to their pre-Danger-Mouse work; in that respect it lacks the type of the ethereal electronic/bluegrass elements that characterized the Danger Mouse point in their career, leaving the subconscious listener keenly focused on the interconnecting drum and guitar work.

They have clearly taken what they have learned from the moderate success of “Attack and Release” and used it to form a new, more-concise, song style that is still inherently brilliant and sloppy (as every Black Keys fan loves). In this manner, the new album will pick up all the people who are on the fence between Adele and MC5. Every track on the album is haunting, organ is a constant presence, and minor keys are a given.

While many “rock” bands nowadays fritter their time away finding the perfect tone, the perfect double-time guitar solo, the perfect shrieking vocals, the Black Keys do just the opposite. Their sloppiness, recording technique, bubbling monotonous vocals all factor in to create a sound that is original and (to a certain extent) unpopular. Like slow punk music or a gritty 50s pop song, the Black Keys know their audience well and are constantly challenging them to broaden their musical tastes.