The Black Keys — singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney on drums — are a two-man combo with a big-band mind. On Brothers, their first studio album after a year of offshoot affairs (Auerbach's solo album, Keep It Hid; Carney's side group, Drummer; a hip-hop project, BlakRoc), the Keys make a thick, dirty racket, overdubbed but never overstuffed. "Everlasting Light" has hive-of-bees distortion, corn-pone harmonies and an Auerbach falsetto that suggests Prince singing through a mummy's gauze. In "Ten Cent Pistol," the pair pile on the menace — a garage quintet's worth of guitars, organ and heavy death march — while leaving enough cold air in a mix that feels like a graveyard recital. Auerbach and Carney did as much on 2008's Attack & Release, produced by Danger Mouse. But Brothers, recorded largely in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with little outside help, has a higher ratio of compelling songs and distress. "The Only One" is slow, earthy sorrow, too roughly handled for pop radio here but a surefire hit on some distant blues planet. And I would have ended the album (which runs a little too long) with "I'm Not the One." With its rusted electric piano, aching bridge and Auerbach's ravaged vocal, it is a deep-fried wrong-love song destined for a payday cover in the straight world.
From The Archives Issue 1105: May 27, 2010