You’ll struggle these days to find a musician whose tastes are restricted to one genre. So it should come as no surprise that Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach has used his new side-project to explore a mellower side to his muse, without the gritty backbeat of Patrick Carney beefing up the blues-rock quotient.
On 2009’s solo set Keep It Hid, Auerbach stuck to a conservative, acoustic-blues template, but around the same time, the Keys’ match-up with R&B producer du jour Damon Dash and a cast of hip-hop glitterati, under the monicker Blackroc, showed he was prepared to challenge himself and his audience.
However, this is a whole other bowl of jambalaya, one which Auerbach has called “extra weird” and “everything I love about music all wrapped up in one record”. It’s an album heavier on soul than blues in the traditional sense, with a sound considerably trippier than the hard, two-man assault of The Black Keys.
But there’s a hell of a lot to like. The Hammer Horror-style spoken introduction tells us there are choppy, psychedelic waters ahead, as does the lo-fi chatter of interview conversations that hum under opening track Outta My Mind. Nonetheless, the twanging psych riff and fuzzed-up bass undercurrent makes for an exhilaratingly retro jam with which to break the ice, and the stoned soul melody of Put A Flower In Your Pocket proves a sleazy if schizophrenic hit.
These crackly, thrift-store vinyl aesthetics thread through the sound, but it gets more esoteric as the album progresses. The woozy reggae lilt and sax-streaked undertones of Everything You Do (You Do For You) are odd but beguiling, housing a cute wee tune to boot, and the creeping, twangy shuffle of Cold Companion is immediately arresting too.
It’s on that track that we hear the strongest echoes of The Black Keys, but this is Auerbach with the vibe mellowed out – a comedown record to complement the frantic, agitated highs his other band often reach. It sounds like he’s also softened the landing with the odd hallucinogen, as Nature’s Child goes full-on Tame Impala with aquatic guitar, histrionic soul backing vocals and blissed-out cooing from our hero.
So it’s a step firmly into the left-field for Dan Auerbach, but a supremely skilled and original one, which defies generic categorisation. Psychedelic soul? Oddball blues? Esotericana? All that and a good deal more. Listen without prejudice.