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An auteur raised on hip-hop, DM keeps the record from staying overly loyal to the Creedence or Free templates. This is a small but crucial difference from 2006's Magic Potion. He colors the band's no-frills narratives with futuristic accents or, on the opposite end, rural flourishes of psychedelia and folk. On each track they add a bolt of surprise that amplifies the pitch-black mood and message. Take the flutes and feedback of "Same Old Thing", which in combination suggest a childlike innocence peeled away by a cold, indifferent world. Likewise, a tension opens between the peppy xylophone and world-weary, Waitsian tremolo on "So He Won't Break". Longtime Waits and Elvis Costello guitarist Marc Ribot lends his powers to this song and to the anguished 6/8 masterpiece "Lies". Here (and elsewhere: "Psychotic Girl", "I Got Mine", "Strange Times") Danger Mouse's layer of backing vocals imbue these earthly stories with a beyond-the-grave air, taking lost-love themes to an eerily literal but quintessentially blues-y level. The unexpected organ line of "All You Ever Wanted" feels like a police ambush on this jilted-John ballad. We almost forget that, in light of the band's uniformly lo-fi discography, nearly every fresh sound on Attack & Release should strike us as alien.
A sequence of slow burns, the record's tempos allow you to relish the details and the textures. "Remember When (Side A)", with its eddies of reverb, envisions nostalgia as something dim and meticulously crafted, with a touch of the fantastic. Speaking of the past, the raw, amplified wallop of the Black Keys' old days is still here, too. Given that Ike Turner was partly responsible for rock'n'roll's love affair with distortion, it would have been wrong for Attack & Release to discard fuzzy riffs. The other side of "Remember When" will sooth anyone longing for their sinewy Nuggets rave-ups. Fans of previous BK records will find this song and the first single, "Strange Times", the bluntest weapons here.
"Things Ain't Like They Used to Be" leads the album to a grim finish. Auerbach's sluggish, hung-over melodies, echoed by teenage protégé Jessica Lea Mayfield's distant singing, carry an air of defeat. Addressed to an old lover, the lyrics describe a happier past, overgrown yards, a man blindly walking into battles, and other ingredients of lament. Yet Carney and Auerbach know that there's more to the blues than bad news. These men are stoics to the fingertips. "It doesn't mean a thing to me," Auerbach repeats on the chorus. The jaded ex of "Same Old Thing" speaks the same language: "It don't matter where you been." We know better.
-Roque Strew, April 01, 2008
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