EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a series of articles wrapping up 2008.
The Black Keys grew up quickly in '08
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
To my ears, lo-fi recordings sound excellent. That grungy sound that can only be attained by recording in the same room through old mics in one day is what rock and roll should be. Immediate and intense, it’s what made the likes of the Who, the Stooges, the Ramones and the Black Keys great.
That said, it’s not necessarily all that's good in rock, either.
The continuing evolution of the Black Keys is nothing if not startling. From a dirty, bluesy duo to a, well, more sophisticated bluesy duo, the Keys have taken the music of their heroes and successfully put their own distinct stamp on it. Their previous albums have all been high-energy affairs, with stomping grooves and nasty, finger-picked licks to spare.
But there’s something here on Attack & Release that’s never been present before. Namely, they’ve begun to use the recording studio as another instrument, and that can be traced right back to producer Danger Mouse, who provides subtle touches here and there that take the Keys’ music from exciting to groundbreaking. Listen to the banjo and near hip-hop groove of “Psychotic Girl,” which introduces bass heavily and features Dan Auerbach delivering a unique vocal performance. Or the two takes of “Remember When,” which goes from paying homage to ’60s Detroit soul to being another screeching rocker.
But, perhaps Danger Mouse’s touch is best presented on “I Got Mine.” This song is a typically excellent rocker in the Black Keys cannon, and had he not been producing it, it likely would’ve sounded great anyway. But it sounds better than great here. Here, Danger Mouse creates an exciting bed for the band to play over, with haunting backing vocals and atmospheric touches that takes their music from great to outstanding.
The Black Keys are one of the better bands of our time, but this album demonstrates a sonic step forward that I never thought would be taken. They’re an outstanding live band and their records are all solid and in regular rotation. Now, they’ve delivered their signature record, one that bands will be listening to for years trying to duplicate. Everything came together here for them, and they’ll have one hell of a task trying to follow this up. But if we’ve learned nothing else, it’s that they’re up to the challenge.
WHAT ELSE WAS INTERESTING 2008?
The Black Crowes — Warpaint: As I said when this was released, this album almost has no business being this good. The additions of Luther Dickinson (guitar) and Adam MacDougall (keyboards) have clearly energized the band, but it goes deeper than that. Chris and Rich Robinson are writing songs that are bluesy, rootsy and totally natural. Along with Attack & Release, this was my most-played album of 2008.
Oasis — Dig Out Your Soul: The first time I heard “the Shock of Lightning,” I was floored. I never thought I’d hear this band sound that fresh and exciting again. And upon first listen to the full album in October, I had goose-bumps two songs in. It took just about 10 years, and they slowly built to this moment through the decade, but Oasis officially has their mojo back.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!: Cave keeps the edgy feel of his side project Grinderman on this album, trading his deep croon for a higher energy shout. As always his subjects are always gripping (and, sometimes, funny).
Beck — Modern Guilt: A classy, sophisticated album from a man who does whatever he wants in music. In tandem with Danger Mouse, he keeps it simple and restrained.
The Dedringers — Sweetheart of the Neighborhood: Bluesy and twangy, these 20-somethings from Austin (hopefully) have a long career ahead of them. This record rocks with the same swagger as the Stones’ Sticky Fingers.
Ryan Adams & the Cardinals — Cardinology: I’ll call you when Ryan Adams makes a bad album. I’ll even call you when he makes an album that’s just OK.
Gnarls Barkely — The Odd Couple: The things Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse are able to do together in a studio are truly frightening.
VH-1 Rock Honors — The Who: This past July at UCLA’s Pauly Pavillion saw the Foo Fighters, Flaming Lips, Incubus (meh), Tenacious D and Pearl Jam pay tribute to the mighty Who, and it was the show of a lifetime. The Foo Fighters kicked off the festivities, the Lips were themselves, and Pearl Jam was heart-stopping. But, ultimately, the Who reminded everyone why they are still one of the greatest bands to ever slice through a guitar amp.
Beck, Spoon and MGMT at the Hollywood Bowl: I’d just started listening to MGMT, I’d been dying to see Spoon for years, and Beck is Beck. MGMT delivered a high-energy set, for sure. Spoon was tight and spot-on, and frontman Britt Daniel is completely focused and in control. Simply, he’s one of the best performers I’ve ever seen. And Beck, in tandem with the Hollywood Bowl orchestra, showed his range beautifully, from the fun of “Nicotine and Gravy” to the somber “Round the Bend.” You rarely get to see shows this exciting and memorable, and this year, I got to see two that I’ll be talking about for years.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: I’m just about ready to build a statue of Charlie in my front yard, long underwear and all. This may be my favorite TV show, ever — the laughs-per-minute are off the chart.
30 Rock: Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Tracy Morgan have teamed up to create the funniest network comedy in years. I’m sure there are some fanatics who’ll disagree, but I’d take this over Seinfeld any day.
Still solid: The Office, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, South Park, Family Guy, American Dad, The Sarah Silverman Program.
The Boston Bruins have a swagger that hasn’t been present since the late ’70s. Starting with the rock-steady play of captain Zdeno Chara, the B’s are playing shut-down defense with a scoring prowess that can be deadly for the opposition. And youngster Milan Lucic (as evidenced here, here and here) has put “big” and “bad” back into the Big Bad Bruins.
Last season, the Bruins took the Montreal Canadiens, as the eighth seed in the playoffs, to the limit. This season, the Bruins are sitting pretty as the best team in the league (as of this writing). Hockey is my favorite sport, and I’ve never been this excited by the Bruins. I’ve hung with them through thick and very, very thin, and it’s years like these that make it all worth it. Here’s hoping they have an even better 2009.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org
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