Friday, July 16, 2010


I started listening to The Black Keys around 2006, I asked a friend if he had heard of the band. His response went something like this: "yeah, I've heard them, I don't really like them though, they sound like a White Stripes rip-off". I was appalled. Numb-skull statements of this fashion are my inspiration to write about music. If that is the best that people can come up with, I think i can offer a little bit more constructive thinking to the topic.

Brothers is the sixth studio offering by the musical duo of drummer Patrick Carney and guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach from Akron, Ohio, released on Nonesuch Records. The Keys sound has clearly evolved from early efforts like 2003's Thickfreakness which was characterized by the simple formula of heavy drumming and raw guitar licks. Much like 2008's Attack and Release, this album bears all the elements of refined production. It is peppered with backing female vocals, organs, xylophones, sound effects, and most songs have a distinct bass line. Simplicity is still the key ingredient to the Black Keys sound, but they've added some nice layers to create an album that built more on finesse rather than raw power.

The album opens to the steady rhythm of "Everlasting Light" and features Dan singing a high pitched harmony backed by a female vocalist. The next three tracks provide the definite high point of the album starting with the anthemic "Next Girl". Danger Mouse, who produced Attack and Release, returns to produce "Tighten Up" and his influence is obvious. The opening whistling sounds could easily have been ripped from a Gnarls Barkly album. "Tighten Up" also highlights Patrick's distinct drumming ability. Like "Next Girl", "Howlin For You" features the Keys at their best: a simple guitar riff on top of a foot-stomping drum beat plus Dan singing about the pains of a woman. The album takes a nice change of pace with the bluesy instrumental "Black Mud" and returning to high pitch vocals and adding the organs to "The Only One."  "Ten Cent Pistol" drops the heavy distortion sound for some distinct guitar picking but then brings it right back for the I'm-a-bad-boy track "Sinister Kid". The last four songs are somewhat disappointing as the album just kind of mellows out and trickles off. They are still good tunes, "Never gonna Give you up" has a motown sound to it and "These Days" is a solid effort to close the album. But there isn't a real rocker in the second half.

As a whole, I'm very pleased with the latest release from The Black Keys. The trend in rock these days is side projects, dipping your little musical fingers into other sugar jars outside of your primary group, and Patrick and Dan seem to be on board with this philosophy. Dan released a successful solo album in 2009 and Patrick organized a collaborative effort in which he played bass in a band called drummer. The two joined forces with several hip-hop artists to release Blakroc, an interesting album that attempted to integrate rock with rap. The live shows to support this album should be great as the Keys revert back to the drums/guitar only sound without all the support of a recording studio. It will be interesting to hear how they interpret their new recording on stage and I relish the opportunity to find out.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I've spent the last several minutes studying a picture on the July page of a calendar on my wall. It is a portrait of Town Lake in Austin, Texas with the night sky lit up by fireworks. The focal point is a statue of the great Stevie Ray Vaughn.The late virtuoso guitarist is universally known for reviving blues music in the 80's during a time when synth pop, hair bands, and punk rock dominated the air waves. He helped shine a light on his hero, Albert King, by displaying his music for a new generation of blues fans. In the same way that studying Eric Clapton turned me on to Robert Johnson, reading about SRV made me an Albert King fan. The picture is moving to me because it illustrates how cool and original Austin, Texas is. There are not very many statues that I've seen that really stick out in my mind, but I'll never forget the one of Stevie, in his trademark Mexican poncho and Josey Wales style cowboy hat, sitting on the waters' edge of town lake. Although I would not make the discovery until well after his death, Stevie had a lot of influence on one of my passions.

Before I started writing, I quickly took a glance at I try to do this on a regular basis to keep up with news in the world of sports, but it ends up happening quite infrequently. I was stunned to see that George Steinbrenner had passed away. Here is another man who had great influence on another one of my passions. As an owner, I think most fans generally loved or hated Steinbrenner. But the one quality he commanded from pretty much everyone in baseball was respect. Like Stevie with the blues, George breathed life into an American pastime: the New York Yankees. But George succeeded where so many other owners have failed: in longevity. Whether or not you supported his brash methods, his overbearing attitude, or his perceived irrational decision making, you really can't deny his success over 37 seasons. I'm sure George will be missed in the yankees community.

My progress as a snowboarder came to a grinding halt last Tuesday. One of the skills I had been working on improving was riding straight. I had gotten pretty good at riding down the hill at an angle and making long sweeping turns. But when I reached the narrow sections at the end of the run I struggled to just ride straight ahead at a slower speed. At the same time I had gotten into the habit of taking two actions when I fell on my heel edge. The first was to roll my body a little bit so as to not fall straight onto my backside. By rolling or twisting a little on the way down, I could kind of hit the snow on my side, instead of my tail bone. The second was to stop putting my hands down to try to brace myself from falling. I've been told that the most common injury for novice snow boarders is broken wrists. It was ok to fall on my hands a few I weeks ago when I was riding cautiously slow and thus falling to the ground slowly as well. But last week I was riding with significantly increased speed, meaning the falls occur quicker and there is much more impact going through my hands and arms. These two subtle changes in my falling techniques would later come back to bite me in the butt. I took a nasty fall on Monday. With my twisting hands off maneuver I managed to land squarely on my left glute. Every ounce of energy I had achieved was transferred squarely into one small section of my body. After a few seconds of crucial pain, I got up and finished off a pretty good day. As luck would have it, I performed the exact same fall to the T, the very next day. I mean composed a mirror image of what I did Monday, on Tuesday. Once again, it hurt like hell, but I got up and rode out of there and went home feeling alright. That was 8 days ago. Currently, I have a bruise that covers the entire left side of my bum and a good portion of my left hamstring. I've never seen anything quite like it. This thing is massive and it's a shade of purple that deserves a new stick in the crayola box. I experienced severe hematoma in my leg after being pinned under a Mardi Gras float in 2003. This bruise makes my mardi gras leg look like a paper cut. When I went to see the physio the first thing she said was "Oh is that it right behind your knee cap where your leg bends?" I responded no as I didn't have any idea what she was talking about. She showed me a new bruise forming down the middle of my leg. She realized a few seconds later when I showed her the actual bruise that what she was looking at was drainage from the original. There is so much blood caught under the skin that it is actually flowing down my leg when I stand for a long periods of time and forming new bruises. Pretty good stuff. Anyway, no snow boarding for me until the swelling goes down. It's not the worst thing in the world. The New Zealand school holidays had the slopes overcrowded with people anyway.

To my delight some Americans opened a proper sandwich shop in Queenstown. Johnny Barr's probably would be considered mediocre in Texas or Louisiana, but in Queenstown it's a top notch hoagie joint. The pulled pork sandwich brought back fond memories of cooking Boston butt in my dutch oven back home. I had it served on a wheat baguette with coleslaw as the dressing. The defining characteristic of the sandwich was the BBQ sauce. The only BBQ sauce I have ever had in New Zealand is the same industrial slop we put on our BBQ pizza at Winnie's. It is the color of Hershey's chocolate syrup and is nearly as sweet. It bears no hint of smoke or hickory flavor. When I inquired about the origin of JB's bbq sauce I was informed that they make their own and the recipe was a secret. Whatever it is, it's legit and light years ahead of anything else available in Queenstown. For as long as I can remember, good submarine style sandwiches have been a staple of lunch for me. It's really nice to have a quality sand which option again.

And with that I think I've covered the most random topics I can think of and will sign off for now. Peace.