The Black Keys – El Camino: Album Review

December 21, 2011 § 2 Comments

I know I know, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of The Black Keys released their seventh studio El Camino on December 6. I planned to review it right after but ran into some trouble after the indie rock band refused to stream the album on Spotify.  Being the huge fan that I am, I purchased the album so I can finally review it. Two days or two weeks late, who cares? The album stills sounds the same – like Rock N’ Roll heaven.

El Camino opens with the killer “Lonely Boy”. The rumbling Quentin Tarantino- esque track has a more upbeat and refined sound that I’m not used to from the more gravely band. But the duo, alongside Danger Mouse, make it work. Following is “Gold on the Ceiling”; with its fuzzy distortion and gospel-like harmonious chorus, it makes for a playful song.

There are many sonic surprises throughout El Camino and “Little Black Submarines” is the first. The track flaunts the band’s take on the Johnny Cash’s vintage sound with a touch of Led Zeppelin blues flair. But it does a complete 180 and becomes a thrashing riff-filled banger that is very reminiscent of Seventies arena-rock.

Both the rhythm and vocals of “Little Black Submarines” are mellow and stripped down:

“A broken heart is blind.”

“Money Maker” is the perfect soundtrack for a gritty bar fight in Nashville. The filtered vocals become blurry between the dirty riffs, creating a funk vibe.  “Run Right Back”  is the band’s very sassy second promotional single that is over way too soon. Its twangy riffs mimic the sourness in Auerbach’s voice:

“She’s the worst thing I’ve been addicted too, oh no…”

El Camino continues with its experimental sound with “Hell of a Season”, a slightly Reggae-influence highlighted by its bouncy rhythm. The heavy stomp of the drums and the sweet yet confident vocals heighten the cool vibe. “Nova Baby” is the ultimate shocker on the album. It has a surprisingly poppy feel that is unexpected and very Eighties. Danger Mouse’s light keyboard strokes are the perfect touch to the song.

“Mind Eraser” ends the album with another soulful Tarantino-like wicked stunner, with Auerbach howling:

“Oh don’t let it be over…”

The track taunts the listener, begging them to keep the album going. You don’t want it to end.

The two-week wait that I had to endure to listen to El Camino was worth it. This project stands out from all six other Black Keys albums with its unapologetic glitz, soulful influences and gnarly riffs. El Camino means “the road” or “the path” in Spanish, which is suitable for this Americano roadster.

The album takes you on a road trip through the winding paths of the bluesy deep South, the folkloric grasses of the Southeast and the dry desert strips of the West. If one ever doubted that all these sounds could meld together in a modern 2011, tell that critic to pop in The Black Keys’ El Camino. Slide them a cool draft beer while you’re at it.

Overall Rating: 4/5

Songs to Skip

“Sister”

“Stop Stop”

Songs on Repeat

“Little Black Submarines”

“Run Right Back”

“Hell of a Season”

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