For much of the past several decades, Blues has reverted into a heavy reliance on its stable of aging legends. From B.B. King to Buddy Guy to Eric Clapton, the genre has relied on its laurels and traditionalist culture to promote itself. Yet unlike other popular genres, blues have hardly evolved from where it was in the 1960s and 1970s. Only a few select artists in the past decade have risen to fill the void underneath the elderly accomplished veterans.
Between their seamless combination of soul-tinged blues, raw garage punk, and their earnest authenticity to blues legends preceding them, The Black Keys have staked their claim as one of this decade's premier blues act. The duo, comprised of guitarist/singer Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, have worked their way towards the forefront of modern blues-rock. On the group’s third album Rubber Factory (2004), Auerbach and Carney make the transition from a lo-fi garage duo to an energetic and versatile presence—one which placed them en route to the top of the Blues genre.
The Black Keys deliver throughout Rubber Factory with their visceral attack of Blues-Rock raucousness, particularly on “10 A.M. Automatic” and “All Hands Against His Own.” What stands out most on this album, however, is Dan's voice, which sounds not of a young 20-something-year old, but rather a seasoned rasp coming from a veteran blues vocalist. While sounding so traveled in his voice, he also shows his ability to wail soulfully atop all the noise within the underlining music, as he displays on tracks such as “Just Couldn't Tie Me Down” and “The Desperate Man.” Auerbach also shines as a guitarist, both displaying a warm tone while still showing glimpses of rawness. On the other hand, Carney's pounded his drums in a commanding and powerful manner, playing so forcefully as if he is gasping for his last breath with each successful drum stroke.
Where Rubber Factory stands apart from its predecessors is in its wider musical breadth. While they still maintain the powerful tenacity found on their earlier albums, The Black Keys expanded the scope of their work, including the crawling opening track “When The Lights Go Out,” the slow and yearning ballad “The Lengths,” and the impressive electric-driven cover of The Kinks’ “Act Nice and Gentile.” Their newfound slower, more melodic side opens up on Rubber Factory, allowing their distinctive loudness resonate more in a particularly impressive manner next to their slower tracks. This album marks a major development in their multifaceted aesthetic—one that the band would expand upon on subsequent albums—but is best heard at this particular point of their musical careers.
More from the War on Pop's Decade in Review:
#18 LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
#19 Antony and the Johnsons - The Crying Light (2009)
#20 Common - Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
#21 Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes (2008)
#22 Jens Lekman - Night Falls Over Kortedala (2007)
#23 Beach House - Devotion (2008)
#24 El-P - I'll Sleep When You're Dead (2007)
#25 Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion (2009)