Album review: The Black Keys – El Camino


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Cover of The Black Keys' 'El Camino'

Akron, Ohio’s rightly acclaimed duo return after…no break at all. Since their 2002 debut, singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney have released roughly a record a year including 2009’s surprise hip hop-rock project BlakRoc, featuring Mos Def, RZA and Ludacris, which neatly banished nearly all associations with rap-rock cross-pollination resulting in a Linkin Park/Limp Bizkit-sounding aural abomination.

Their ascent has been steady, their tours never-ending – in fact El Camino is Spanish for ‘the road’ –with their hard work rewarded when last year’s Brothers went mainstream, winning three Grammys and an MTV Award for Breakthrough Video, incorrectly inscribed to The Black Eyed Peas. Watching their economical, thrillingly gruff-riffing set at the Barfly back in 2003, we’d have never predicted this outcome, but we’re overjoyed.

Their eighth LP is cut from the same cloth as Brothers: a heady brew of slinky, soulful, shimmying blues-rock. There’s an increasing lean away from their roots towards a poppier groove, particularly on ‘Nova Baby,’ ‘Stop Stop’ and ‘Sister,’ with its pleasingly spectral organs. But even when Auerbach strips bare on the heart-shattered ‘Little Black Submarines,’ they can’t resist turning something tender into a brutal and brilliant maelstrom of hard-hitting beats.

‘Gold on the Ceiling’ is probably the best distillation of where The Black Keys are right now, rollicking and fleshed out by well-placed female vocals, losing none of their primal rock appeal.

By Kim Taylor Bennett


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