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Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Dos: Day 187
Mon. July 16, 2012

“Unknown Brother”
The Black Keys

2010

“♫ Though I never
met you/ and
we spoke not
a word […] Unknown,
unknown brother / I’ll
meet you someday
♫”

It’s been years, since my bachelor days, living near Wrigley Field, in Chicago back then The Black Keys were apart of my rock filled playlists. But some how, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney, aka The Black Keys, and I– musically drifted apart. The Keys and I lost touch with each other for about six years but yesterday thanks to my Uncle’s Brian, Eric and Patrick, The Black Keys and I got reconnected at a family gathering in Long Beach.


Brothers
is The Black Keys album which my Uncles played me yesterday. It’s the perfect one for any family gathering because the spirit that went behind making of the album was simple as singer and guitarist Dan Auerbach explained, when he said—“We love each other, we get on each other’s nerves, and we piss each other off. But like brothers, we know it’s all OK.” So true because at the end of the day, Brothers reflects, upbeat emotional connection that you feel around such a loving family. The sharing of music is one of our family’s favorite past times.

Dan and I grew up a lot as individuals and musicians prior to making this album; Our relationship was tested in many ways, but at the end of the day we’re brothers. I think these songs reflect that.” Drummer Patrick Carney said talking about the dynamics within the rhythmic partnership between he and Dan that make up The Black Keys. When discussing the inspiration for Brothers as a whole, Carney explained—“We like spooky sounds…like Alice Coltrane, where a dark groove is laid down. That’s the headspace we tried to get into for this record.”

My favorite cut from Brothers is “Unknown Brother” which was about the death of his wife Stephanie’s brother as Auerbach described — “It’s about my brother-in-law who died of cancer when he was in high school. I’m not sure there could be another tone when making a song about mourning a young life being taken so soon.” “Unknown Brother” influenced the album title as Dan discussed, when he said—“I was talking to Pat about it because he loved the song and we both have brothers, and we couldn’t imagine being 16 years old and losing your brother. And we had just gotten through a rough patch where [Pat] was coming out of his relationship and coming out of the fog and we were coming back together again after being away, so it just felt right.”

What felt right was Dan’s killer guitar sound from “Unknown Brother” which reminded me of a sped up coda riff of The Beatles’ “I Want You(She’s So Heavy)” from Abbey Road. It’s Dan unique axe style that unlocks the explosive Brothers sound that is The Black Keys. Dan explained his philosophy as a guitarist when he said—“I prefer limitations. At some point you have to put the guitar down, stop practicing and read a book. Just try to get influenced by something other than music. And I think that [ethos] has helped me. I like the feeling of picking up a guitar and being like, ‘Whoa, how do I work this thing again?

More than just rock from your cock, Dan and Patrick go deeper with “Unknown Brother.” It’s that cerebral sensation that I felt from The Black Keys electric groove that, only after a few spins, got me hooked on the unique sound of Brothers. What a rocker, I can’t stop playing “Unknown Brother.” It’s one of the buried gems that’s quintessential to the Black Keys Brothers listening experience.

“”I really don’t have an ear for pitch. I can’t sing at all, I can’t hum melodies and I can’t write riffs.” shared drummer Patrick Carney, despite his limitations Patrick is an integral part of The Keys’ sound. But it’s not just Dan’s band, The Keys wouldn’t sound as powerfully Black without the pounding passion from drummer Carney. Auerbach boasted about his band mate when he said—“But that’s what’s great about Pat; he doesn’t know how to do a normal rock beat. There’s more technically able kids in music shops, but they don’t sound as original.”

You can hear from the opening riff and the addictive backbeats, what makes The Black Keys is that Auerbach and Carney have soul. They have the sound of desire coming out of their amp with the most glorious feedback this side of the Mississippi. So what’s the method for The Black Keys amazing success? Auerbach explained “The idea of making something ‘catchy’ enough was just not in our vocabulary. We were just trying to please ourselves. We’d make 10 or 12 songs, put them together and there’s an album. It gave us a reason to go out and play more shows.”

Just like family, there’s love in everything Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney create on wax. I am thankful my Uncle’s Brian, Eric, Patrick, and their good buddy Brian, for reintroducing me to the powerfully riff centric greatness of The Black Keys. “Unknown Brother” may be a somber tribute to Auerbach’s deceased brother-in-law but Brothers has a collective brilliance that brought our family closer together. We will always be indebted to the masters of the electric soul, Auerbach and Carney, for their moving musical connections within the timeless sonic exploration—that is the rocking funk of The Black Keys’ Brothers.

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