Friday, April 10, 2009

April 10: The Black Keys, "Rubber Factory"

Artist: The Black Keys
Album: Rubber Factory
Year: 2004
Label: Fat Possum

Though largely regarded as the state responsible for the birth of rock and roll, the state of Ohio has done little since to contribute to the longevity of the genre. Although not even one of the three largest cities in the state, the city of Akron remains as the only justifiable “hotbed” of music in Ohio. In the early 1980’s, the city produced seminal bands like Devo, Pere Ubu, and Zero Defex, all which helped influence a variety of genres. In 2000, a new Akron band burst onto the scene and remain one of the finest funk-rock acts on the planet. The Black Keys have released five albums since forming in late 2001, but their 2004 album, Rubber Factory is nothing short of stunning.

Traditionally, to make as much noise as they do, a full band is required. However, the duo of guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer/producer Patrick Carney prove that they can hold their own with the finest and loudest bands in the land. Recorded in an abandoned warehouse in their hometown, the raw, lo-fi production on the record gives it a mood and sound similar to groups like The White Stripes. However, The Black Keys rise high above their peers in that it is clear that, not only do they know their music history, but they have a fine knowledge of what it is that makes a great rock record. From the production, to the tone of each instrument, to the overall soul behind the record, Rubber Factory has a wonderfully "classic" sound to it, yet is undeniably modern and hip simultaneously. Taking heavy influences from early 1970’s funk and psychedelia, The Black Keys infuse elements of blues, punk, metal, and hip hop to create a sound that is truly one of a kind.

Auerbach and Carney have an uncanny ability to write amazingly catchy hooks, both musically and lyrically. The gritty, energetic guitar tone provides a great combination of both modern, as well as classic sound to their music. Between the bluesy slide guitar, and the funkiest of riffs, the guitar work on Rubber Factory is nothing short of awe inspiring. When Auerbach isn't pumping out killer chords, his soulful, beautiful soloing supplies a potent juxtaposition to the grimy, rough sound over which he is playing. The true ability of Auerbach's gorgeous melodies are brought to the forefront on the mellow, winding, "The Lengths." The percussion of Carney is no "second place" in this band, as he is equally as impressive throughout the record. Seamlessly transitioning between slow, jazzy beats and crushing rock tempos, Carney provides a perfect backbeat groove on each and every song.

The vocals and lyrics on Rubber Factory are just as notable and varied as the music itself. Auerbach sings brilliantly whether in the most quiet and mellow songs, or outright rockers like "Grown So Ugly." He clearly understands how each mood is best presented, and his voice is never strained, expressing each song flawlessly. Auerbach is so well versed in how to properly approach each song, that he manages to sound completely natural even when covering the Kinks classic, "Act Nice And Gentle" (there is also a killer cover of "Summertime Blues" found on the Japanese release of the record). It is on Rubber Factory where Auerbach's talents as a writer finally reach their peak, and his universally accessible tales help take the album to the next level. From his writing, to his music, to his stellar voice, Dan Auerbach is unquestionably one of the most gifted people in music today, and is certainly well on his way to becoming one of the best in history.

The Black Keys fuse blues, soul, and rock better than nearly anyone in the history of music. Knowing and understanding their influences, and taking the best aspects of all of them, their sound is original, organic, and nothing short of phenomenal. The sound created by Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney is transcendent to the point where the mood of the record becomes nearly intoxicating. The music and lyrics throughout Rubber Factory took the world by storm, and still today, songs from the record can be heard in a number of films, tv shows, and commercials. Clearly, The Black Keys have a long and bright future ahead of them, and their 2004 release, Rubber Factory, is a shining example of their abilities and is a refreshing addition to every music collection.

Standout tracks: "When The Lights Go Out," "Girl Is On My Mind," and "Stack Shot Billy."

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