Premature Evaluation

Premature Evaluation: The Black Keys – Attack & Release

Danger Mouse is a good producer. Or at least we like the accents and aesthetic he brings to his projects. His dreamy sheen saves much of the mediocre Odd Couple, for instance. In general, there’s better songwriting on the Black Keys fifth album, and follow up to 2006’s Magic Potion, Attack & Release, but the woozy choirs, ghostly keys, and spectral whirls he adds to Daniel Auerbach and Patrick Carney’s blues rock, pushes the Akron duo into engaging new directions. Remember, these dudes didn’t always record in official studios. Then again, good blues players don’t need to…

There is plenty of hot rock on Attack — see the Stripes-y “Remember When (Side B)” — but DM’s deft input is most felt on the slow, grinding tunes like “Lies” or the flanging, whistling “Remember When (Side A).” Or, have you heard the hand-clappy, guitar riffing “Strange Times”? There’s an explosive video for it.

See, it’s during the breakdown that you get a sense of how DM added a deeper atmosphere to the sound. Likewise, we already mentioned strutting album standout “Psychotic Girl“‘s wobbling, oozing rhythmic cushion that flairs beneath slide guitars, twangy banjo, and achy, cavernous vocals. Instrumentally, it sounds like early Beck — which makes us curious about what Danger Mouse will do on that new Beck album. The ’70s pastoral flute/fife/fawn-y woodwind overlapping with guitar feedback and crunch in “Same Old Thing” is a thing of beauty. That ice/fuzz overlap happens on the slide-guitaring of “Oceans & Streams,” too, which also had a sound that hits like an underwater radar. The Mouse has certain go-to/signature accents. He’s fond of this sort of Snoop Dogg organ/saw/synth quaver that shows up on a few tracks.

Besides Danger Mouse, other guests include guitarist Marc Ribot, Patrick’s uncle Ralph Carney (who, along with Ribot, has played in Tom Waits’ band), and youngster bluegrass singer Jessica Lea Mayfield, who sounds great (but mixed low) on the ballad-y album closer “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be.” It’s a total grand-finale torch song.

All said, and all Danger Mouse production analyzed to hell, there are songs that pass by unnoticed, or drag in the wrong ways (yeah, sometimes dragging is right), but by and large, Attack & Release is a solid effort, without much fat to trim: It sounds great, the dust kickers hit sharply, and the ballads have a spooky vibe that makes ‘em both memorable and affecting.

Attack & Release is out 4/1 on Nonesuch.