By Ryan Jory
The Black Keys plan to release their new album on December 6, but like many things in this digital age, it has somehow already made its way onto the internet for anyone to get for free. Its quite easy, really. All you need to do is search the phrase, “Black Keys El Camino leak,” or some variation of that. El Camino, however, is worth much more than the time you put into finding it.
Its the seventh album of the most respectable band in modern music.
The Black Keys started out as a minimalist blues-rock duo from Akron, Ohio, chugging around in a beat up Dodge Caravan. They started out like most bands did, with their gear crammed into the back seat, and no fan base to speak of. Now they are selling out arenas all over the country while still making the music they love.
The single from the new album is called “Lonely Boy,” a revved up, stripped down, slice of gold. The song starts with a heavily distorted riff by singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach, quickly followed by fast, pounding drums by drummer Patrick Carney. The song is simple and straightforward, driven by a two chord verse, and a three chord chorus. I say its stripped down because the rest of the songs on the album, while in the same vein, are far more complicated. The goofy dancing in the video was done in one take by Derrick Tuggle, and it fits the song perfectly because its simple and to the point.
The Black Keys’ previous music has had a few different themes. The first album the band recorded, The Big Come Up, was as simple as music can be. The best example of this style is “Brooklyn Bound.” As the band continued on, they released three more albums following the same formula. Each was slightly more developed than the last, but they were the same in style. Then came Attack and Release, the album that brought the band some fame. Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton produced the album, and it was a big step for the band. However, the real attention came with the release of Brothers. With this brilliant piece of work, they were nominated for five Grammys, and won two. As you can tell from the hit single, “Tighten Up,” The Black Keys have changed a lot since The Big Come Up. The overall feel of Brothers was simply a more developed, more refined, and more produced version of their usual blues-rock making it far more radio-friendly.
El Camino takes the grittiness of The Big Come Up, combines it with the subtle perfection of Brothers, then revs it up to oblivion. The energy of El Camino is something the band has never displayed. Spin Magazine agrees that the album makes you feel like you are flying down a highway in an El Camino, chasing down some ex-lover. Almost every song has the constant drive of Carney’s speedy drumming, pulling along Auerbach’s moaning voice.
“Gold on the Ceiling” has the strongest hint of Brothers in it. Patrick Carney’s drum beat even sounds oddly identical to his drum beat on “Howlin’ For You,” a hit from Brothers. “Gold on the Ceiling” is one of the best tunes on the album, begging the question of why “Lonely Boy” was chosen as the tantalizing single. “Lonely Boy” is not the obvious choice for such a spotlight because its not the most standout song.
“Little Black Submarines” is the only song that breaks the repetitive formula of the album. For the most part, it is a straightforward acoustic ballad, until the end of the song where Auerbach and Carney relapse back to their usual volume with a head-bangable jam.
The respectable part of The Black Keys‘ story is their musical progression. So many modern bands like Coldplay or Kings of Leon started out making the music they wanted to make whether it was popular or not, then slowly made the switch to over-produced poppy nonsense just to make money and be famous. This action is known as “selling out.” As a life long music fan, I truly believe that a band who sells out deserves no respect. The Black Keys have not sold out at all, which is why they are so great and so revered by music critics of the modern age. Anyone who calls El Camino pop is out of their mind. It is rough, gritty, bluesy, badass Rock n’ Roll: the kind that doesn’t often make it to the Top 40.
The Black Keys have struck gold yet again with El Camino, and deserve every bit of praise they get. When the album is released, I highly recommend it to any fan of their older tunes.