The Black Keys' performance from the 9:30 club in Washington DC was an unabashed, hard-driving rock show. There weren't any ballads in their nearly hour-and-a-half set; it was all about Dan Aurbach's distorted guitar and Patrick Carney's fiery drums. In an interview before the show with All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen, the band talked about their slow, comfortable climb to success. That slow climb brought hardcore fans to the club, about a thousand a night for two sold out shows. The band played music from all five of their albums and, for the dedicated fans in the club and in our chat room, it was a thrill to hear some of those older tunes. The group is on tour in support of its latest album, Attack and Release. An album produced by Brian Burton also known as Danger Mouse.
Attack and Release is a fitting title for The Black Keys' fifth full-length CD and its arresting mix of crunchy guitars and thundering rhythms. But the duo also backs away from its usual riff-rock punch to show a more thoughtful side. Songs like "All You Ever Wanted" and "Things Aren't Like They Used to Be" amble along at a quieter pace, with plaintive meditations on lost love and failed dreams.
Attack and Release is The Black Keys' richest and most diverse recording to date. It's the band's first album to include more than simple guitar and drums, as well as its first recorded in a formal studio. "After doing four albums in the basement, we were ready to go somewhere else," guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach says.
Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney recorded at the Suma studio outside of Cleveland, Ohio. They were joined by guitarist Marc Ribot and multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney — both veterans of Tom Waits' band — and singer Jessica Lea Mayfield. Danger Mouse, a.k.a. Brian Burton, was brought in as the producer.
"I think Dan and I were intrigued to work with somebody as a producer because we both realized we couldn't teach ourselves anything more, and it was best to start learning from other people," Carney says. "When we were like 22, we didn't have the money to do this; by the time we were 24, maybe we thought we knew more than we actually did. Now, at 27, we maybe just realized we had stopped being broke, and stopped being dips---s, and we could learn from other people who make records."
Friends since they were kids, Auerbach and Carney both dropped out of college and mowed lawns for a living when they first started their band in 2002. They got the name from a schizophrenic artist in Akron who called the two "the black keys," a phrase he used to describe people who "weren't quite right."