The Black Keys

El Camino is latest release from Ohio duo

El Camino
4/5

Ohio’s rightly acclaimed duo return after… no break at all. Since releasing their debut in 2002, hard-working singer-guitarist Dan Auerbach and lanky drummer Patrick Carney have released roughly a record a year, including 2009’s surprise hip hop-rock project BlakRoc, featuring Mos Def, RZA and Ludacris among others, which neatly banished nearly all associations with rap-rock cross-pollination resulting in a Linkin Park/Limp Bizkit-sounding aural abomination. Their ascent has been steady, their tours never-ending – in fact, El Camino is Spanish for ‘the road’ – with their hard work rewarded when last year’s Brothers went mainstream to the tune of three Grammys and one MTV Award for Breakthrough Video, incorrectly inscribed to The Black Eyed Peas, as it goes.

Their eighth long-player (and fourth collaboration with producer Danger Mouse) is cut from the same cloth as Brothers: a heady brew of slinky, soulful, shimmying blues-rock. Certainly there’s an increasing lean away from their roots towards a poppier groove, particularly on ‘Nova Baby’, ‘Stop Stop’ and ‘Sister’ with its pleasingly spectral organs. But even when Auerbach strips bare on the heart-shattered ‘Little Black Submarines’, at the midway point they can’t resist turning something tender into a brutal and brilliant maelstrom of hard-hitting beats.

‘Gold on the Ceiling’ is probably the best distillation of where The Black Keys are at in 2011, a rollicking chug, fleshed out by well placed female vocals on the chorus while losing none of the duo’s primal, gnarly rock appeal. An excellent album – and we’ll expect another next year.

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