Friday, December 16, 2011

Keys to the El Camino

Right now as I type this, there is a trio of high school kids somewhere, standing in the cold and strumming air guitar. They’re gathered outside a car in an empty parking lot, a darkened playground or an undeveloped cul-de-sac, sipping warm cans of Keystone and defiantly smoking Marlboro Lights. And, cranking steadily out of their neighboring car stereo are head-nodding songs by this new band they just recently discovered called the Black Keys.

Just one problem: the Black Keys aren’t new at all. They’ve actually been at it for over ten years. Eventually, these thirsty, invigorated kids will figure this out, then find the nearest wireless connection for more details. 

Since last year’s high-profile Grammy haul and release of the duo’s ninth studio album, El Camino, it’s been nearly impossible to miss the Keys. Have a television? The Akron natives have had their songs placed in everything from jewelry to credit card to vampire movie ads. Have a radio? Their whistling single “Tighten Up” off previous effort Brothers found regular rotation on college radio stations from Emerson to Berkeley. Been to a national or international music festival in the last two years? They’ve been there, stomping through their latest offerings while sprinkling in flammable cuts from past records like Magic Potion or Rubber Factory. On Tuesday of this week, I heard two of their songs as ESPN commercial cutaways on “Mike & Mike” before hearing their single “Lonely Boy” echo through Buffalo’s First Niagara Center during breaks in the Sabres-Ottawa Senators game.

And that’s how it happens: One minute, you’re watching some greasy gem of a band in the back room of an ale-soaked rock club. The next, that same band is echoing out of an NHL arena’s massive sound system, blanketing a swaying sea of jersey-clad fans who’ve never heard of them.

Now, this isn’t the part where I transition into how tragic it is when bands go mainstream or become popular or are finally fortunate enough to earn a living wage after years of eating cold Jack in the Box in the back of an Astrovan. Every artist should be lucky enough to gain a loyal fan base and earn a living doing what they’re not only good at, but what they love to do. History is littered with authors, filmmakers and musicians who slogged around for years in obscurity before being “discovered” and touted as the next big thing. But, since they’d actually been writing and filming and performing for years, was their previous stuff just not that good, or was it just deemed irrelevant by the subjective, cash-infused mainstream?

Who knows. It’s a debate for college dorm rooms or dive bars, incited by individuals not yet exhausted by chicken-or-the-egg arguments. The important thing isn’t whether the band is welcomed into the fickle bosom of the mainstream; it’s that hard-working bands like the Keys finally found a headline spot at Madison Square Garden with the same material they’ve been dealing out for a decade. They’re gaining exposure to larger audiences, ones that should’ve been around to see their sweaty, unhinged performances on previous, bare-bone tours for Attack & Release; ones who haven’t heard their hip-hop collaboration on Blackroc; ones who missed out on Dan Auerbach’s solo classic, Keep It Hid. Now, instead of entertaining hundreds of black-denimed hipsters milking cans of PBR and frowning under Urban Outfitters eyeglasses, they can ply their trade in front of bigger crowds, ones open to eventually inhaling their entire back catalogue of howling electric stompers and grizzly blues rituals.

Will there be those who purchase El Camino, drop “Lonely Boy” into their iPod and call it a day? Sure. You’ll see these people at the gym, or taking pictures of themselves at a Keys concert with their iPhones. For others, discovering that a modern band has history you know nothing about is exciting. You have new albums to buy, new concerts to go to, and new songs to use on mix discs and iPod playlists. It’s a new soundtrack for your days, nights and weekends.

For those eager to discover what they’ve been missing since The Big Come Up first found Ohio record store shelves in 2002, get ready to find a soundtrack that melts your face and snarls your hair.

As you get started, I’d like to help you with an introductory 15-song Black Keys playlist, one you could download or buy or steal or listen to as soon as you find the end of this post. (I've also provided links to every song--just to make this as easy as possible for you to listen to them.) Some of the mentioned tracks will make you want to drive your car a little faster; a few will make you pull over and relax; and a few others will make you want to douse your car in gasoline, light it on fire and drive it off a cliff in an explosive blaze of glory.

Whatever the case, expect the following songs to make a sonic impression on your already whetted interest.

1.“Breaks” (The Big Come Up)
2. “Next Girl” (Brothers)
3. “10 A.M. Automatic" (Rubber Factory)
4. “I Got Mine” (Attack & Release)
5. “You’re the One” (Magic Potion)
6. “She’s Long Gone” (Brothers)
7. “Grown So Ugly” (Rubber Factory)
8. “Just Got To Be” (Magic Potion)
9. “Done Did It” (Blackroc)
10. “When the Lights Go Out” (Rubber Factory)
11. “Same Old Thing” (Attack & Release)
12. “Your Touch” (Magic Potion)
13. “Set You Free” (Thickfreakness)
14. “What You Do To Me” (Blackroc)
15. “Till I Get My Way" (Rubber Factory)

Hope this helps in your discovery. Until the next experienced and accomplished band becomes the newest sensation, take care.

(Author’s note: This entry was finished while listening to the Black Keys’ Rubber Factory.)

1 comment:

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