Who Sounds like The Black Keys?
The Black Keys’ legacy stems from humble if not improbable origins. Formed in Akron, OH, in the early 2000s, the Rust Belt blues duo of Patrick Carney (drums) and Dan Auerbach (vocals/guitar) comprises the core lineup of a multi-Grammy Award winning rock band best known for simple riffs and infused elements of hip-hop and R&B. Early albums feature the two musicians exclusively, with most recordings done in Carney’s basement.
The band stands out against a pop-heavy modern rock scene due to their loose deliveries, fuzzy yet driving chord progressions, and gospel-esque sound. Often somber and soulful, poetic lyrics also play a role in the mainstream popularity of the band while giving a glimpse into the low-key personalities of both bandmates, who frequently stay out of the public eye.
If You Like The Black Keys, You May Like…
Heavily influenced by early blues artists like Robert Johnson, Billie Holiday, and Hank Williams, as well as later purveyors of the genre like The Grateful Dead, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones, The Black Keys gained recognition in a market largely unsaturated with similar artists. Modern music critics classify the band as coming out of the second wave of garage rock that began in the late 2000s and early 2010s.
The first wave of garage rock, which emerged in the 1990s, featured grunge acts like Nirvana, Soundgarden, and The Melvins, all of whom came out of the Seattle, WA, area. Bands like The Black Keys typically draw inspiration from artists of similar time periods centered on rock n roll, blues, and grunge.
The Black Keys songs showcase influences of the stripped-down, raw sounds of grunge and garage rock mixed with earthy, sometimes howling vocals laden with soul and blues. The group later built on the stripped-down sounds found in early albums, where only two instruments were featured, to incorporate layers of instruments and effects ranging from bass and rhythm guitars to bells, back-up singers, and keys.
Most fans regard the band as a return to classic forms of the rock genre. However, the casual listener primarily enjoys the up-tempo contemporary singles released on the group’s later albums, which feature heavy hooks and tighter pop formats. Music lovers who enjoy artists like The Black Keys also frequently listen to:
- The White Stripes
- Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
- Kings of Leon
- The Strokes
These bands that sound like The Black Keys are similar to the Ohio natives in terms of their flair for producing distinctive rock music that combines elements of other, niche genres to create a sound that appeals to mainstream audiences and hardcore music junkies alike.
Band members Patrick Carney and Dan Auerbach grew up in together in Akron, OH. Although they were classmates, neither musician began hanging out with the other until high school, when the duo eventually formed The Black Keys in 2001.
The official lineup of the band remained unchanged throughout the first eight years of recording music and performing. In 2009, after calling in record producer Danger Mouse, the Ohio-born band began regularly adding session musicians to perform in the studio and fill out the overall sound of new albums. Carney and Auerbach moved to Nashville, TN, in 2010 to open a recording studio.
Formed in 2001, The Black Keys released their first official album, The Big Come Up, via Alive Records in 2002. The Ohio natives changed labels in 2003 for the release of their second full-length album Thickfreakness and remained with the record company for 2004’s Rubber Factory. Both albums furthered the popularity of the band, with Rubber Factory becoming the first Black Keys record to chart on the Billboard Top 200.
The band toured extensively over the next two years before releasing Magic Potion in 2006; however, the new album debuted under another record label in Nonesuch Records, which continues to serve as the record label for The Black Keys.
Pat Carney and Dan Auerbach served as primary producers on the first four Black Keys albums before enlisting the help of industry mogul and respected talent Brian Joseph Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse. The new producer helped expand the hip-hop and R&B acumen of the band as well as fine-tune the overall production value of individual tracks.
2008 and 2009 marked the first years that The Black Keys recorded in an actual studio, instead of compiling songs in Carney’s basement. Danger Mouse oversaw the production of the group’s next five albums, including Attack & Release (2008), Blakroc (2009), Brothers (2010), El Camino (2011), and Turn Blue (2014).
The Black Keys music mostly derives from the soulful blues ballads prominent in the 1920s and 1930s. Infused with modern hip-hop rhythms, Black Keys songs often pulse with energy. Driving paces and sharp, wild guitar punctuate many of the singles released by the band as well as their accompanying B-Sides.
The musical style of The Black Keys also largely features slow and melodic yet dissonant and gospel-inspired tracks dominated by the soulful crooning of Dan Auerbach. As the band’s discography progresses, listeners find that the raw, almost grungy sound found on early albums has evolved into a more accessible, radio-friendly format still able to capture some of the group’s traditional visceral energy, but in a more refined way and with added production effects.
- The Big Come Up (2002) – The 13-track album features heavy blues riffs and raw, distorted melodies. Notable cuts include the first single “Leavin’ Trunk” and a cover of the Lennon-McCartney Beatles song “She Said, She Said”. None of the album’s singles cracked the contemporary music charts; however, the Beatles cover enjoys continued popularity among contemporary fans.
- Thickfreakness (2003) – A follow-up to the debut release, the album continues with stripped-down sounds and features Auerbach and Carney exclusively. “Set You Free” appeared in the movie School of Rock, starring Jack Black.
- Rubber Factory (2004) – Typically regarded as the album that brought The Black Keys to wider prominence, Rubber Factory gained nationwide exposure and includes songs that were featured in television commercials, movies, and montages for sporting events. Notable singles include “10 A.M. Automatic,” “Girl is On My Mind,” and “Till I Get My Way.” The duo also performed the classic-rock throwback “Stack Shot Billy” live on Late Show with David Letterman to promote the album.
- Magic Potion (2006) – The Black Keys released another balled-filled album with Magic Potion two years after the debut of Rubber Factory. The album’s sound continues to build on the rock arrangements found throughout the band’s first LPs, with added production value and backing guitar on certain songs. The single “Your Touch” garnered national attention, helping the album break into the top 100 on the Billboard charts upon release.
- Attack & Release (2008) – Peaking at No. 14 in the U.S., the 2008 release features the first collaboration between The Black Keys and producer Danger Mouse. “I Got Mine” and “Strange Times” are fan favorites that the band continues to play in concert. Attack and Release deviates from the signature blues sound of previous albums to include further uses of hip-hop and R&B elements as well as some Eastern influences on certain tracks.
- Blakroc (2009) – The Black Keys continue to collaborate with other artists and producers on the 2009 album Blakroc, which features prominent hip-hop artists like Mos Def, Ludacris, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Songs include rap-inspired rhythms and uncharacteristically explicit lyrics for the Akron duo; however, fans received the LP well, with the album charting in the Top 200 again.
- Brothers (2010) – Sometimes referred to as the quintessential Black Keys album, Brothers captures the raw, visceral origins of the band and infuses pop elements to reach a completely national audience. The album won three Grammy Awards, including Best Alternative Music Album and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group for the lead single “Tighten Up.” Worldwide, Brothers sold over two million copies and peaked at No. 3 on the U.S. charts.
- El Camino (2011) – Another commercial success, El Camino peaked at No. 2 on the charts and won a trio of Grammy Awards, including Best Rock Album, Best Rock Performance, and Best Rock Song. Many of the songs on the album build on the pop format featured in the previous LP and introduce an arena-rock style, like on “Gold on the Ceiling” and the most popular single from the release, “Lonely Boy”.
- Turn Blue (2014) – The ninth Black Keys studio album harkens back to classic rock-era formats, with prolonged jams featuring bluesy rhythms and soulful lyrics. While the album failed to beat out competitors at the 57th Grammy Awards, Turn Blue became the first LP under Carney and Auerbach to reach No. 1 in the U.S.