Befitting an album by one of the Black Keys, The Arcs' "Yours, Dreamily" (Nonesuch) is full of guitar solos, drums that sound like explosives and bluesy love-is-dead lines like "the milk inside the fridge, it turned / the bridge between us, it burned." But just as the Keys have evolved over 14 years from bashing garage-rock duo to something more sophisticated and melodic, guitarist Dan Auerbach's new side project is deeper than it seems -- at times it recalls the sludgy rewards of Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft" or the Beastie Boys' "Check Your Head."
Auerbach replaces Patrick Carney's relentless thunder with sympathetic soul men and women, including members of soul singer Sharon Jones' veteran Dap-Kings. The album begins like the Black Keys -- 30 seconds of monkey-grinder organ, then booming drums, guitars and "Good morning, children! Welcome to school." Then it downshifts into more subtle territory -- "Put a Flower in Your Pocket" has the feel of steaming city streets, overcrowded with guitar fuzz; "Pistol Made of Bones" is so laid-back it's almost jazz, with guitar solos and Mariachi Flor de Toloache girl-group harmonies competing for space; and the narcissist's anthem "Everything You Do (You Do for You)" is a staticky shuffle reminiscent of '60s AM radio or Dylan's "Honest with Me."
The Key without the glasses can't totally overcome his limitations and pet ideas. Lyrically, there is a lot of putting the cart before the horse, being forever stuck in Mississippi and living like a king near the gates of hell. And while most of his production (with songwriter Leon Michels) puts the right sounds in the right places, like the repeating little guitar riff that holds up the soulful, should-be radio hit "Cold Companion," he overshoots with distracting sex noises throughout "Come & Go."
As you may have heard, Keith Richards plans to release an album soon, and it's likely to cover the same blues, rock and soul ground. Auerbach may have just scooped him.
BOTTOM LINE Black Keys soulful side project is subtle, melodic, often transcendent.