Earlier this year, a shoulder injury to The Black Keys’ drummer Patrick Carney put paid to a number of upcoming shows, and between production duties for other artists, partner Dan Auerbach probably found himself with a little more free time than usual. And now, a collaboration with mates – including The Shins’ Richard Swift, plus the more recent addition of an all-female mariachi band – collated from years in the studio and touring has resulted in a new band, The Arcs, releasing a debut album in the wake of his main band’s absence.
This isn’t Auerbach’s first venture outside The Black Keys though: that came with a solo album released in 2009, Keep It Hid, but Yours, Dreamily is firmly a band effort. With Carney and Auerbach forging a career out of bluesy rock, that’s unsurprisingly revisited at points during the new album with less leanings towards the Danger Mouse influenced latter day sound, but there’s a distinct soul flavour on show too.
Years of on and off writing and recording had resulted in something like 65 songs being stockpiled by The Arcs’ main collaborators so the time came when they thought they’d better do something with the material, although much of the new album is apparently more recent. The stockpiling obviously gave the project a rather large kick-start though, with the whole recording process across three venues of New York, Los Angeles and Nashville taking just a couple of weeks in all before it was sent off for mixing at a horse farm in Wales.
A couple of singles preceded the album release, namely Outta My Mind and Stay In My Corner and the former arrives first after a strange, fiendish sounding circus-like intro that opens the album. It’s an up-tempo cut that bounces along with a simple six note keyboard riff hitting the chorus that hints at a ‘70s spy thriller theme tune; the latter, released in conjunction with much hyped boxing match of the decade – Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao – is an excellent slab of mellow bluesy rock with tinkly piano and a burst of thick guitar soloing.
To be honest, it’s a wonder how some of these tracks have been kept under wraps for so long. The slower bluesy garage fuzz of Put A Flower In Your Pocket wouldn’t be misplaced on some of The Black Keys’ earlier long players whilst Pistol Made Of Bones takes a keyboard melody and creates another track reminiscent of his main band, but an excellent guitar solo is annoyingly curtailed. The Arc opens to blues guitar noodling before the fuzz pedal takes over for something sounding like a mash up of Dire Straits’ Money For Nothing meeting Black Sabbath’s Paranoid in a head-on collision and then there’s something completely different, dreamy falsetto vocals leading the way to organ chords and bass piano notes that remind just so slightly of Talk Talk for Natures Child. But it’s another similar Talk Talk sounding organ chord-backed chorus during the superb Cold Companion that tingles the spine for a major highlight; a slow plod set to a shuffling beat and sublime guitar playing add up to create something subtly outstanding.
Auerbach has claimed that The Arcs have given him a chance to “get extra weird” and that’s certainly the case with Come And Go, opening to female sexual noises before reaching climax after some flashy ‘70s synth sounds, Michael Jackson-like whoops and piano-heavy strangeness. Similarly, the anti-Bryan Adams entitled Everything You Do (You Do For You) registers highly on the bizarre scale. “We put the horse before the cart,” sings Auerbach before a track pans out that sounds a bit like a saxophone-playing boozy horse stumbling home after a day of noshing tequila-soaked hay, with an accordion-playing monkey riding its back.
Needless to say, Yours, Dreamily can occasionally represent a more challenging listen than other Auerbach-contributed music. Occasionally though, these guys soar; in all, it’s an eclectic collection that will hold your attention for a long time, even if being a little devoid of truly masterful standout moments, leaving Auerbach’s summary of “if this thing is wildly successful it’ll be completely by accident” potentially spot on.