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Steady As They Go: The uncluttered appeal of The Black Keys and The Raconteurs

You need to take this music for what it is.

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Steady as they go

Expectations are so much higher when well-known, experienced artists deliver new music. Bands like The Black Keys and The Raconteurs (The Saboteurs here in Australia) have produced that much impressive, timeless rock n’ roll music that when both announced new albums, the hype was through the roof, for good reason. I was over the moon to hear Let’s Rock by The Black Keys and Help Us Stranger by The Raconteurs, as I am always impressed by what both bands can produce, but it seems not everyone was as impressed as I was.

Successful bands like these two are harshly criticized because of their status and criticized even harder because of their previous success. It is harder to impress when releasing new music. I have observed that it has been increasingly difficult for The Black Keys and The Raconteurs to please everyone. The bands have been criticized for lacking clarity, being less compelling, dull, a lack of conviction and less ambitious. Most of these criticisms have come from Pitchfork and other sites, but in no way do I think either albums are lacking anything. Both bands have taken a break and have come back passionate and determined to once again produce some classics.  

The Black Keys have released a solid album. Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney work so well together, they know exactly how to make rock n’ roll catchy without throwing out the integrity (like in “Go“). They supply guitar riffs in pretty much every song that encourages you to play along, as it’s not overly fancy music, yet is so thrilling. If you isolated all aspects of The Black Keys, it wouldn’t seem as effective, but the compilation of the drums, guitar, and Auerbach’s diverse voice makes for the tastiest recipe. One of the main attractions of The Black Keys, is the fact that Auerbach has such a sweet, gentle voice. And this great combination of classic rock sounds paired with that delicate, skillful voice that is a match that is not often seen. Let’s Rock was written from scratch in the studio, there was no pre-planning or recording, and if that ain’t rock n’ roll then I don’t know what is. Carney told RollingStone; “Auerbach played most of the guitar solos live; he’d simply stop playing rhythm and kick into lead”. They’ve taken a well-earned break, and have come back excited and inspired to work together again and their melodies and riffs are approachable, catchy and just as impressive as every other album they have produced.  

The Raconteurs are just as well strung and assembled. Right from the very beginning “Help Me Stranger” is ready to impress you. The album demonstrates a nice variety of fast and slow, acoustic and restraint, and going all out. It showcases the best of all the band members. “Don’t Bother Me” parades the full brunt of the band. With the classic Jack White yell/sing, it’s flat out from the beginning and that damn break down in the middle gets me real excited every time. I can’t fault this song. It changes paces and direction and manages to stay the same amount of epic all throughout. According to the commentary, “Shine The Light On Me” was recorded for White’s solo album, which you can tell straight away; it’s very Jack White. What’s impressive about The Raconteurs is that they can explore influences of other genres within their songs. “Somedays I Don’t Feel Like Trying” adds a country/western guitar that brings a different feel to this song, and the elements of doo-wops and different harmonies have produced songs like “Now That You’re Gone”, a type of ballad within a heavy rock n’ roll song. When I first listened to this album, my notes for “Sunday Driver” read: ‘the guitar riff is awesome, the bridge is awesome, everything about this song is awesome.’ You can feel the proudness of this song, it’s just an amazing rock n’ roll track that offers everything a song like this needs to offer, and the same can be said about “Live A Lie”. “What’s Yours Is Mine” screams Jack White. The intro is bloody fantastic and the sounds of both guitars are impressive. The harmonies are lovely, the collaboration between them is well heard, it always sounds like a group effort, even if it stems from one person and then grows to everyone. It’s a good mix of White’s ideas running crazy, and then homing in with Brendon Benson’s melodic genius. The Raconteurs are a band that really know what they are doing.

The New York Times claimed, “In an era of blatantly computerized pop, Let’s Rock flaunts basics from yesteryear: guitars, drums, vocals”. And this is where I think there has been some misinterpretation. You need to take this music for what it is. Yes, so many bands excel and explore different pathways and there are so many new pathways musicians can take these days, but The Black Keys along with The Raconteurs are flaunting the basics and the roots of music, perhaps it is even more impressive that they can restrain from additions to their music (that they probably would get criticized for even more). This music works and they are showcasing what works so well. They’re not being pretentious about it, if anything the simplicity of it should show a humbleness. It’s just epic guitar riffs and composed music, if you’ve got the knowledge and experience why should they be punished for that? Both albums are playful and exciting. I stand my ground when I say both albums are needed today. They are uncluttered and are both strong outings by professionals of the trade.

The Black Keys’ Let’s Rock and The Raconteurs Help Us Stranger are both out now.

Music

A Night with Northlane

Josh Hockey went to go see Northlane in Melbourne and took photographer Albert LaMontagne with him to capture the night.

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Northlane

Settling in to 170 Russell would have been nice, but as we stepped in at the allocated 6:30 door time we were greeted with the start of Void Of Vision’s set. Sprinting down the stairs and into the room, it was clear that moving the door time forward half an hour had definitely affected the crowd.

A decent audience had streamed in, but nowhere big enough considering the year Void Of Vision has had. Releasing their magnum opus album, Hyperdaze, they have been on an absolute tear, and it was clear during this set that they were going to keep going hard.

Opening up by bringing the heavy early, Void had the room shaking from the world go. An impressive light show and an almighty wall of sound filled the room with layers upon layers of adrenaline. Vocalist Jack Bergin led this assault, bringing as much energy as he possibly could, whilst utilising his seemingly endless amounts of stage presence.

New songs like “Babylon” and “Hole In Me” showcased their new sound, while “Kill All Your Friends” got the pit going like it always does. They finished strong with “Ghost In The Machine” and left their stamp on 170 Russell.

International act Silent Planet were up next. A pretty much completely new band to me, I was immediately impressed by the connection they appeared to have with their audience. From the word go, the pit was open, and everyone in the front few row was singing along with all the passion in the world.

Spoken word vocals mixed with harsh screams ensured that vocalist Garrett kept the audience on their toes. The instrumentals kept up this pace as well, with their hard hitting dark tones unrelentingly assaulting the ears of all listeners (in a good way).

Silent Planet sounded incredibly large all the way through, and definitely would have made themselves some new fans on the night. Their music appeared to be full of themes of mental illness, and political issues, which is absolutely super important in today’s societal climate.

Counterparts were up next. Definitely a well known band, the heavy Canadians immediately made clear the tone of the set announcing themselves with a call of, “Counterparts Schoolies Week Motherfucker.” They launched into their first song and it was immediately clear why they are as acclaimed as they are. Ridiculously tight and sounding stupidly massive, they had fans moving from the second they started playing.

The shit talking between sets would have been the highlight, but the songs themselves made it hard to top. Playing the old classics as well as the new heavy-hitters, there was as much two stepping as there was singing along. Also this was perhaps the first time in history I heard a pitcall of “schoolies 2019 motherfucker open it up,” which was an experience that I’m glad I had.

Dedicating a song to Australia’s very own Trophy Eyes, their massive sound continued unrelentingly. Coming towards the end, the set closed with a wave of crowdsurfers all diving and climbing towards the microphone, trying to get ahold of vocalist Brendan so they could scream his words right back at him. This set was great, and I’m quite sad I personally am not a Counterparts super fan so I couldn’t join in the fun. Next time boys. Next time.

Finally it was time for the big dogs, Northlane. The lights went down and hands went up, ready to go and awaiting the bands arrival impatiently, the audiences cravings would soon be met. Northlane charged onto stage and belted into “Talking Heads.” The movement was huge from the start, and the audience was off their feet and jumping non-stop all the way through.

“Details Matter” was a definite highlight of the set, with the ridiculously massive sound of one of the better songs of 2019 running rampant through 170 Russell. Headbangers were aplenty and moshers were in surplus. This continued even into one of their softer songs, “Rot.” The first song released by the band with vocalist Marcus Bridge, “Rot” went down an absolute treat as always.

Northlane are a ludicrously tight live band, and this became ever more clear as they smashed through “Citizen, “Obelisk”, and “4D.” New party song “Eclipse” had the room shaking as everyone refused to stop bouncing. The set began to come to a close as massive Alien single “Bloodline” was the definite highlight of the show. It has been one of my favourite songs of the year, and this rendition locked that in even more. Cannons and lights were ablaze and firing everywhere, and made this even more of a spectacle.

Leaving stage momentarily, Northlane returned as Marcus came back wearing a big sparkly coat. “Sleepless”, the closing track of the album was incredibly effective and touching live. And was a nice sombre end to the show, right before they launched into the timeless heavy classic, “Quantum Flux.” And goddamn was it massive.

Northlane are one of the best bands out there, and this show only locked that in.

Check out the images from the Northlane show:

All photos by Albert LaMontagne. Copyright 2019 Albert LaMontagne / Sound the Sirens Magazine. Please do not use or distribute these images without the permission of Albert LaMontagne. If you use these images without permission, you are a terrible person.

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Reviews

Crossed Keys – Saviors

Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds

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Crossed Keys Saviors

Philadelphia’s Crossed Keys are an interesting intersection between melodic hardcore and punk, taking an earnest approach to the sound that made its way from the underground in the late 90s and early 2000s. This relatively new outfit is the result of Kid Dynamite and Samiam in a blender- in the best way possible. The Kid Dynamite influence may be a given since Crossed Eyes features KD’s drummer Dave Wagenschutz, but the band’s pedigree also includes members of bands like Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer and The Curse, all backing the melancholic vocal work of frontman Joshua Alvarez (Halo of Snakes). So while Crossed Keys are somewhat new, its members have been cutting their teeth within their respective circles for years, and their new EP Saviors shows the work of well-seasoned musicians finding new energy in old sounds.

Saviors is backboned by the furious urgency and energy that Kid Dynamite showed through their history, but while Jason Shevchuk’s vocals were beautifully abrasive, Alvarez takes a more restrained, wistful approach to singing. Songs like the opening “Times of Grace” are musically up-tempo percussions and razor-sharp guitars, but are buoyed by Alvarez’s more melodic vocals. His vocals rest at a good place between Samiam’s Jason Beebout and that NYHC tone exhibited by bands like Token Entry and Grey Area. In songs like “R.J.A” and the closing title track, Crossed Keys find more success with their brand of blistering speed meets harmony- slowing down only for the kind of melancholic punk that made Samiam a noted name. While much of Saviors is built on pace, it wasn’t always this way for the band. In fact, their 2017 EP, I’m Just Happy That You’re Here, leans closer to Samiam than it does to Kid Dynamite (the song “Jeff Pelly vs. The Empire” is particularly fantastic), so there’s been an uptick of urgency with Saviors.

For fans of any of the aforementioned bands here, there is plenty to like with Crossed Keys and plenty to like in Saviors. It’s succinct, to the point, but filled with ample reflection and exploration that gives the EP depth and resonance. Any band that has found influence from Kid Dynamite is most certainly OK by us (this site is named after a KD song after all), but Crossed Keys does more than just tip their cap. This one’s a really good one, and worth your time.

(Hellminded Records)

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