I like all The Black Keys albums that I have heard – 11 of them, including a recording of a live set at Lollapalooza in 2013 (although I don’t remember how I managed to get that one; the rest I bought off iTunes).

But I particularly like 2010’s Brothers. For me, that album, co-produced by Danger Mouse, the songwriter, musician and producer who has worked with the band on other albums as well, showcases the band the best. The duo – Dan Auerbach (guitars, vocals, keyboards) and Patrick Carney (drums, percussion) are at their minimalist best. On Brothers, the raw grittiness is still intact in their blues and yet it is slickly produced. It’s my go-to Black Keys album.

But it’s a close call. Because I’m a Black Keys fan: I like last year’s Turn Blue for its more polished and fulsome sound; I have a soft corner for 2011’s El Camino – a little because of the album’s ironic cover that has a stodgy minivan and not the muscle car for which it is named, but a lot more because of the songs, Lonely Boy, the opener; and Little Black Submarine, which begins deceptively and then turns into this full-blown Led Zep-like rocker of a tune.

Same old, brand new: Besides Dan Auerbach, The Arcs include Richard Swift of The Shins, and an all-woman Mariachi band.

Same old, brand new: Besides Dan Auerbach, The Arcs include Richard Swift of The Shins, and an all-woman Mariachi band.

The Black Keys’ real star is Auerbach, a great singer and guitarist but also a versatile musician who has also produced albums by artists such as Dr. John, Lana Del Rey, Grace Potter, Hanni El Khatib, and Ray LaMontagne. Now, he has a new band, The Arcs. And in the first week of this month they launched their debut album, titled Yours, Dreamily,. Yes, the second comma is part of the name of the album.

Besides Auerbach, The Arcs have accomplished musicians, including Richard Swift, singer and keyboardist for the indie band, The Shins, and even an all-woman Mariachi band, but it is Auerbach who outshines everybody else on Yours, Dreamily,.

Also watch: The Arcs – Outta My Mind (Official Music Video)

The first half of the album sounds like a natural evolution of The Black Keys’ sound from minimal and gritty to more layered and sophisticated – more instruments, a lot more happening in the ambient sound but with Auerbach’s characteristic vocal style: raw, soulful and with a range that goes from deep lows to high falsettos and one that can handle gritty blues and pop tunes with equal ease.

Yours, Dreamily, opens with a strange spoken intro backed by an old-worldly keyboard line but then launches into the first track, Outta My Mind. The lyrics (Outta my mind/ I’m faded/ Outta my mind/ The ones, I love, have left my side/ Outta my mind/ But I made it/ Yeah) make it a break-up song but the tempo is upbeat. The next song, Put A Flower In Your Pocket, would have fitted perfectly in a quintessential Black Keys album, as would the third track, Pistol Made of Bones – if the Mariachi band weren’t there in the background!

The Arcs launched Yours, Dreamily, in early September.

The Arcs launched Yours, Dreamily, in early September.

In fact, the first half of the The Arcs’ debut album is like a Black Keys album enhanced with musical supplements: longer more noodly guitar riffs; saxophones; electric pianos; and keyboards. It’s after that that things get a bit experimental. Even weird. The track Come and Go begins with what seemed to me to be female moans from the soundtrack of a vintage porn film. For fans of The Black Keys, Yours, Dreamily, although it is by The Arcs, is a great segue from Auerbach’s main band’s last album, Turn Blue.

Tailpiece:
The official video of the song S.O.B. is set in what is apparently a prison dining room, where the all-male cast is clad in prison clothes with their name-tags sewn on their shirts. Bearded lead singer Nathaniel Ratecliff too has one. It begins with a sort of a capella humming and hand-clapping and then with guitars, horns and drums kicking in, transforms into a soul/gospel song that is about the struggles of an alcoholic.

Also watch: Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – S.O.B. (Official)

I’d never heard of Ratecliff or his band, Nathaniel Ratecliff & The Night Sweats till I saw this video. I went and got their album of the same name and discovered their interesting folky soul music.

Prison break: The official video of Nathaniel Ratecliff & The Night Sweats’s song S.O.B. is set in what is apparently a prison dining room – the cast is clad in prison clothes with their name-tags sewn on their shirts.

Prison break: The official video of Nathaniel Ratecliff & The Night Sweats’s song S.O.B. is set in what is apparently a prison dining room – the cast is clad in prison clothes with their name-tags sewn on their shirts.

Ratecliff is from Denver and his back story is one of a musician who has had to struggle to get where he is now. You could classify his earlier music as folk-pop but this new album marks a clear shift towards soul-gospel-R&B. An artist to check out. And, most certainly, S.O.B. is a video to watch.

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So many great albums have dropped in the past year that I don’t know how to even make a list of the ones that I liked. How many can I list? Fifty? Sixty? More? Music blogs and magazines have already put out their top albums of 2013 lists. Some, such as Rolling Stone, have listed 50; NPR has 100 favourite songs and 50 favourite records; PopMatters lists 75 best albums of 2013; and many others have lists for every genre (tip: if you want to get a smattering of what was happening in metal last year, do check out Stereogum’s top 50 in that loud genre; I was happy when I took a peek there to see the only metal album of last year that I bought, Deafheaven’s Sunbather, was No.1). Read more
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