The Black Keys - Attack & Release (LP)
Until now, guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney of the Black Keys took an extreme do-it-yourself approach to record making, hunkering down in a basement studio or setting up equipment in one of the abandoned factories of their native Akron, Ohio. Their modus operandi was more seance than session. With a minimal set of tools, they conjured up a big, swaggering blues-rock sound, seemingly drawn from some distant time and place yet too weirdly original to ever be called retro. As Rolling Stone put it in a review of their 2006 Nonesuch debut, Magic Potion, "Pure blues rock of this caliber is really timeless."
For this album, however, the Black Keys decided not to go it alone: Attack and Release is the result of one of the most audacious and eagerly awaited collaborations in alternative rock history. As producer, Auerbach and Carney chose Danger Mouse, the mega-eclectic sonic mastermind behind the Grammy Award-winning Gnarls Barkley's St. Elsewhere and its multi-format hit, "Crazy", as well as the music-industry provocateur who created the mother of all mash-ups, The Grey Album. The Black Keys also deigned to work at an established studio, albeit one within driving distance of Akron. Suma Recording, a legendary spot in northeast Ohio renowned for its supply of great vintage gear, provided just the right ambience for the guys. As Carney put it, with genuine affection, Suma "smells like a moldy cabin and looks like a haunted house."
On Attack and Release, Danger Mouse is more creative co-conspirator than traditional figure behind the boards. He doesn't radically alter the duo's sound so much as coax out more of its inherent soulfulness, groove and bittersweet emotion. Two versions of "Remember When" illustrate how the duo can swing easily from smoldering ballad to thrashing rocker. "I'm more pleased with the sound of this record than any one we've ever made," says Carney, and Auerbach concurs: "We never let it all go like we did for this one, anything was game. It was just fun to make, and that's why I think it's so successful." The band adds more instrumentation to their mix, including piano, organ and moog synthesizer. Danger Mouse fashions subtle special effects, like the ghostly background choir that surfaces on the moody "I Got Mine", which sounds as if it were samples from some old Warner Bros. cartoon. The Black Keys also invited in a few special guests: guitarist Marc Ribot and clarinetist-flautist (and Pat's uncle) Ralph Carney, both veterans of Tom Waits' band and players on countless avant-rock/jazz/noise session. Jessica Lea Mayfield a/k/a Chittlin, an impressive 18 year-old bluegrass/country singer from Kent, Ohio, sings alongside a heart-breakingly plaintive Auerbauch on the slow-dance final cut, "Things Ain't Like They Used to Be".