The Black Keys : Attack & Release

attack & release.jpgThe Black Keys have, up until now, been known for their rough and raw indie rock that leans heavily on hill country blues grooves and punk rock ethos. But that’s about to change. With Attack & Release, the band’s fifth full-length album, they’ve vaulted themselves into another realm.

There are many things different about this release than their previous efforts. For one, it’s the first time they’ve recorded outside of their basement. Attack & Release was recorded at Suma Studio outside their hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. It’s the first time they’ve used other musicians and instruments other than their drums and guitar, including Ralph Carney’s banjo and Marc Ribot’s guitar.  And it’s the first time they’ve used an outside producer. That that producer is the heralded and seemingly ubiquitous Danger Mouse –the mad genius who is half of Gnarls Barkley, the mastermind behind The Grey Album, and the beatmaster for dozens of albums hitting eardrums everywhere as we speak—is perhaps the most significant factor, though.

The collaboration between The Black Keys and Danger Mouse began as a project the producer was working on for Ike Turner. Then Turner died. But even before that, they knew that the tracks they were constructing for Turner were turning into a Black Keys record.

The result is their most ambitious work to date. Where the Keys used to be fairly accused of being monotonous and repetitive, they show off an amazing range here with Danger Mouse.  The atmospheric and haunting “Lies” rumbles on at a pace that evokes the hoodoo inspiration of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. The sweeping psychedelia of “I Got Mine” is a head-twirling maelstrom. “Strange Times” swoops between a weirdly warbling chorus and fuzzy ferocity.

Listening to the Keys’ Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach enlist the use of different tempos, instrumentation and sounds is like watching a pair of very mischievous kids dive into a pile of new toys on Christmas morning. It’s refreshing to see them work with these new tools, and while it at times serves as the very antithesis of their low fidelity identity, it results in a more mature, bold and adventurous  statement than they’ve ever made before.

Attack & Release is out now on Nonesuch.