9/4 via Nonesuch Records
There’s always been a lot to enjoy about Dan Auerbach’s side projects. As a solo artist, 2009’s Keep It Hid proved Auerbach’s true mettle as a songwriter trading in the swampier depths of American music. As a producer, he’s revived R&B stalwart Dr. John’s career, added muscle to Ray LaMontagne’s weathered growl, and refreshed Lana Del Rey’s then-tiresome shtick into something dark and beautiful. But no matter what, Auerbach will never escape the long shadow cast by his most successful project. Every solo album, every tour with a side project, they’ll all be compared to the Black Keys, arguably the most successful rock band of the 00’s.
Throughout the debut of his newest side project, The Arcs, Auerbach finds himself shrouded by that shadow. Which is not to say he doesn’t do his best to get out from behind it. Yours, Dreamily, is, at its best, a thing of beauty. Auerbach’s grimy guitar and honeyed falsetto, long two of the Black Keys’ signature touchstones, are everywhere on this album. And The Arcs prove a worthy band to Auerbach, shading this album appropriate hues. From cracking ferocity (opener “Outta My Mind”) to seductive slinkiness (“Cold Companion”), from stuttering psychedelia (the outstanding “Put A Flower In Your Pocket”) to soaring soul-searchers (“Searching the Blue”), it’s all there for the band.
Or at least it’s almost all there. Because despite some true high points on this record, Auerbach and co. still can’t seem to shake the spectre of the Black Keys looming over them. Too often, Yours seems to unintentionally split the difference between two of the Keys’ more psychedelic efforts, 2008’s Attack & Release and last year’s Turn Blue. Those albums found Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney finding their way through Danger Mouse-induced haze, but the aura never dominated the songs. That is too often not the case here. “Nature’s Child”, despite a great vocal from Auerbach and some liquefied synths, never quite seems to know what it wants to be, bouncing between aesthetics with no real direction. “Come and Go” plods along on tired innuendo made explicit by the moans of satisfied females that pop up in the background. It’s entirely unnecessary, and a low point on the album. And, despite its relatively svelte 45-minute runtime, the record drags on and on. Not even an inspired guest vocal from the all-female mariachi group Flor de Toloache on “Chains of Love” can speed up the back half of the album.
Despite all this, the high points on Yours, Dreamily, really do stand up to some of Auerbach’s best work, and that includes the Black Keys. And the best tracks do sound like they’d come off a Keys record. “Outta My Mind” sounds like a storming centerpiece off Attack & Release, while “Put A Flower In Your Pocket” would’ve been right at home on Brothers. When this album is good, it’s great. But its best tracks cannot save Yours, Dreamily, from the giant looming over its shoulder. But that doesn’t invalidate this album’s existence, and with another full-length record in the works, The Arcs certainly have more to offer. But it remains to be seen just how much more they can.
Key Tracks: “Outta My Mind”, “Put A Flower In Your Pocket”, “Stay In My Corner”,
“Searching the Blue”