The Black Keys
Dan Auerbach (guitarist/vocalist) and Patrick Carney (drummer) first met each other around age 8 or 9 when they lived in the same neighborhood in Akron, Ohio. During high school they were part of different crowds (Dan was a stoner and captain of the soccer team while Patrick was a social outcast) but they became friends and were eventually encouraged to play together in 1996. However they didn’t form The Black Keys initially; college got in the way. But after they both dropped out of the University of Akron and no individual solo projects panned out, the duo started one of the best rock groups of this millennium.
They drew inspiration from the late artist Alfred McMoore to name the band The Black Keys. Alfred was an artist and a friend of Dan’s father and whenever he called and was upset, he would refer to Mr. Auerbach as a “black key”. On top of helping with a band name, their past has also been very important in shaping the music they write. Patrick’s dad would listen to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones while Dan’s listened to the Grateful Dead, Billie Holiday, and the Cadillacs. These classic rock and American roots bands obviously rubbed off on Auerbach and Carney, and The Black Keys have been creating great blues, indie, and garage rock thanks to these past legends; and one day they will join their ranks.
Their first 4 years saw 3 full-length albums: The Big Come up (2002), Thickfreakness (2003), and Rubber Factory (2004). The first two were recorded in Carney’s basement and the third in a makeshift studio inside an old tire manufacturing plant (thus the albums name). Right away they established their foundation in the blues and rock and roll realm of music with songs like “Girl is on my mind” and “10 a.m. Automatic”. However they also showed great ability to branch out into the complex song structures of psychedelic music (i.e. covering the Beatles’ “She Said She Said” on their debut album).
2006 saw the release of their fourth album, Magic Potion. It was their first album without any cover songs, and also started their transition towards writing complete albums rather than just putting singles together. This ideal is evident on Attack and Release, their fifth album, released in 2008, and produced by Danger Mouse. This album really showed that The Black Keys had tremendous skill and could really branch out into psychedelic rock. The album doesn’t have songs that real you in immediately, but instead has a series of more emotional tracks that slowly intrigue you and make you feel something deeper. Now The Black Keys had it all musically; they could make music in this broad range they had created for themselves and it would still be great, and that’s just what they went on to do.
Their sixth LP, Brothers, was released in 2010 (6 albums of this caliber in less than a decade is quite a feat might I add) and consisted of a blues/rock and roll sound that was a slower and moodier than their first few albums. The album gained them even more fans, but the slower tracks were a bit difficult to perform live so, in 2011, El Camino was released. This is The Black Key’s most successful album because right away it jumps out, grabs you, and rocks; it’s that simple. “Lonely Boy” starts off the album and is infectious. Then during the next two tracks, “Dead and Gone” and “Gold on the Ceiling”, you realize that this album is making you dance and sing to rock and roll. Are we back in the 1960s or 1970s? Nope, but we might as well be. Next comes “Little Black Submarines” and you think you’re going to get a break from jamming out. But then (attention, spoiler alert!) halfway through the track, we are hit with a huge transition and faces are melted (it is my favorite song to see live). The rest of the album follows down this path it started, keeping you on your feet, dancing, and singing, wondering what decade we’re actually in.
Their most recent album, Turn Blue, was released just this past May. Again The Black Keys took a different turn (this is probably their most unique album to date), and again it sill worked. The lead singles, “Fever” and “Gotta Get Away”, still rock out and remind me of El Camino, but the rest of the album takes a big psychedelic turn. Tracks like “Weight of Love” and “Bullet in the Brain” take slower, moody starts, with their drawn out sounds and softer vocals, but still pick up and incorporate that Black Keys sound we love.
The Black Keys have now dominated the music scene for over a decade. Since 2011 they have won 7 Grammy Awards (after being nominated 12 times), their shows are unique and continue to sell out, and when they release an album, it often performs well in year-end charts. Their success comes from a fearless passion for the music they create; it knows no bounds. One track could be an emotional psychedelic journey and the next could be an all out, grab you by the neck, rock anthem. Either way, the Black Keys make you feel just as much as they make you rock out; it’s the classic rock remedy for our modern era.
By Benjamin Lowden