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Feature: The Essential Black Keys

By Lucien Flores; May 29, 2013 at 11:43 AM 

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The Black Keys are currently one of the rock biggest bands in the country and have come a long way from ten years ago when guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney were recording bare-bones blues-rock songs in Carney’s basement in Akron, Ohio.

Along with the White Stripes and a host of bands you no longer remember, the Black Keys were among the vanguard of the garage-rock revival scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Surprisingly though, the band survived the 2000s and now prosper today with a sound that stays true to their bluesy roots.

With El Camino and Brothers, the band has gained steady radio play, a string of arena dates, and a wealth of new fans. However, the band’s seven-album history cannot be ignored. Early classics such as Thickfreakness and Rubber Factory represented the band for years and exhibit the duo’s early raw power. Starting with Attack & Release, the band began experimenting with studio wizardry, outside producers, and new instrumentation that changed the direction of the band and sped up their evolution. After Magic Potion, there was a feeling that the band might be stagnant, sticking to the same formula with each song. The Keys righted the ship, tinkered with their sound, and now have a diverse set of records to their name.

With a catalogue as large as the Black Keys, some difficult choices had to be made in selecting their top tracks. Songs such as “Till I Get My Way” and their cover of “Have Love Will Travel” were neglected for simply being too similar to other songs on the list. Magic Potion, the band’s last self-produced album, had a few solid numbers in “Strange Desire” and “Just Got To Be” that also missed the cutoff. These are solid songs that were stuck in that transition period between the band’s great garage-rock and their transformation to modern rock gods. Commercial hits such as “Howlin’ For You” and standout recent cuts such as “Run Right Back,” “Little Black Submarines,” and “Next Girl” were not included for simply not being more influential over earlier numbers.

Listen with Spotify while you run down our list:

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Feature: The Essential Blur

By Brendan Frank; April 26, 2013 at 2:00 PM 

With the seeming finality of the release of their career-spanning compilation, 21, and a triumphant show at the Olympic after-party, Blur’s future remains unaddressed. Their career has spanned four decades, yielded seven albums, a boatload of singles, and has simultaneously entrenched itself into several storylines in rock and pop mythology. Their infamous war with Oasis in 1995 may have marked the height of their popularity, but while Oasis continued to try its hand at remaking its most successful releases, Blur moved on. Released within a span of 11 years, the eclecticism of these 15 tracks is quite astonishing.

There’s really no hard and fast rule for what makes a good Blur song; the various styles on display here are too diverse to warrant even an attempt at making one. As the band’s chief songwriters, Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon were masters of melody, form, wit and scope. Any contemporary British band you care to name has a few fragments of Blur in their sound. All of their albums deserve full listens, but if you don’t have $150 to fork out for 21 right now, these songs will put you on the right track.

Listen with Spotify while you run down our list:

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The Essential Arcade Fire

By Lucien Flores; August 2, 2012 at 12:35 PM 

What makes an essential Arcade Fire track? A strong rhythm section, frenzied guitar and strings, contagious amounts of energy, and a menagerie of instruments are a good start. Lyrically, Arcade Fire’s strongest songs are poignant reflections on the past sung by an angst-ridden Win Butler. With a penchant for stirring the mind, Arcade Fire’s music easily rouses visions of chilly Canadian winters, a post-9/11 America, or dull Houston suburbs.

Led by the husband and wife duo of Butler and Régine Chassagne, Arcade Fire has three albums, one extended play, and various B-sides to their name. While the band has a relatively small catalogue to sort through compared to other indie veterans, picking the band’s fifteen essential tracks is still a difficult task. No algorithm could do it justice and at the end a few excellent songs had to be omitted. The underappreciated “(Antichrist Television Blues),” the delicate “Neon Bible,” and the fiery “Month of May” just missed the cut.

It’s significant to note that six out of the ten tracks on the band’s debut album, Funeral, made the list. Even though The Suburbs won them the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2011, Funeral is still the band’s magnum opus.


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