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Feature: The Essential Black Keys

By ; May 29, 2013 at 11:43 AM 

10: “Gold on the Ceiling” – El Camino

Like many of the tracks on El Camino, “Gold on The Ceiling” features more keyboard and a tighter song structure than most of the band’s earlier numbers. Carney hits listeners with a body-moving shuffle and handclaps make an elusive appearance. Auerbach unleashes solo upon solo upon listeners; something only a band with confidence could do without seeming gaudy. The band still sounds dirty and bluesy, however, with more studio wizardry than before.

9: “Set You Free” – Thickfreakness

The loudest the Black Keys have ever sounded, “Set You Free” perfectly encapsulates the band’s earlier days of fast and fuzzy guitar over fill-heavy and loud, pounding, drums. Carney takes full advantage of his unconventional drum set up (he sets the floor tom to the left of his high-hat), enabling him to frantically pound at the instrument. It’s a blitzkrieg that’s over in less than three minutes.

8: “Strange Times” – Attack & Release

Attack & Release is arguably the halfway point in the Black Keys transformation to festival headliners and “Strange Time” points to a good middle point of the band’s existence. Like so many other great Keys tracks before it, it’s a fast and riff-driven song with punchy drums; however, the band begins to experiment with eerie and spacey sounds you can’t make with simply a drum set and guitar.

7: “Everlasting Light” – Brothers

“Everlasting Light” highlights the Black Key’s evolution from garage rockers to polished rock darlings. Gone are Auerbach’s frenzied guitar riffs and Carney’s non-stop filling. Instead, the song features a heavy—crunchy—guitar track and steadier drumming. Auerbach trades in his raspy growl and sings in a smooth falsetto and recruits a few choirgirls to brighten up the track. Yes, the Black Keys still stick to their formula of deriving influences from 1960s and 1970s rock, however, they’ve never sounded this polished and restrained. Ultimately “Everlasting Light” is a sultry number to open Brothers.

6: “The Breaks” – The Big Come Up

After a humorous intro with a hip-hop backbeat, Auerbach lets a sharp —feedback-laden — guitar strum that jolts any listener. Imperfect and raw, “The Breaks” is the band’s finest cut from their debut album. Auerbach’s guitar sounds simultaneously fat and shrill throughout the track, hitting the limits of the band’s DIY lo-fi recording. Even with the muffled mixing there is still so much swagger to this song; if there’s one track you want to hear while strutting down the street, it’s this one.

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