Originally a raw, visceral blues-rock outfit inspired by the likes of such juke joint rockers as Junior Kimbrough, the Black Keys expanded their purview after mastering their garagey roar with Rubber Factory in 2004. Making the leap to the major-label Nonesuch, the duo of guitarist/vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney dove into heady psychedelic territory, sometimes assisted by producer Danger Mouse. The band’s collaborations with the adventurous hip-hop producer opened the doors to a variety of sounds, colors, and textures, a broadened palette they’d channel onto sharp songs on their platinum-selling albums Brothers and El Camino, both arriving in the early years of the 2000s. After the trippy 2014 album Turn Blue, the Black Keys took an extended hiatus through the back half of the 2010s, during which time Auerbach set up his Easy Eye Sound studio and label. The duo returned with renewed vigor on 2019′s Let’s Rock, maintaining that momentum through the blues covers album Delta Kream in 2021 and the rollicking Dropout Boogie in 2022.
Natives of Akron, Ohio, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney formed the Black Keys in 2001. They released their debut, The Big Come Up, in 2002, receiving strong reviews and sales, and leading to a contract with Fat Possum by the end of the year. That label released Thickfreakness, recorded in a 14-hour session, in the spring of 2003, and the Keys supported the album with an opening tour for Sleater-Kinney. Their momentum escalated considerably with their 2004 album Rubber Factory, which not only received strong reviews but some high-profile play, including a video for “10 A.M. Automatic” featuring comedian David Cross. The band’s highly touted live act was documented on a 2005 DVD, released the same year that Chulahoma — an EP of blues covers — appeared.
The Black Keys made the leap to the major labels with 2006′s Magic Potion, a moodier record that continued to build their fan base. The band capitalized on that moodiness with 2008′s Attack & Release, whose production by Danger Mouse signaled that the Keys were hardly just blues-rock purists. Salvaged from sessions intended as a duet set with Ike Turner, who died before the record could be finished, the album was the Black Keys’ biggest to date, debuting in the Billboard Top 15 and earning strong reviews. Following the duo’s second live DVD, they spent 2009 on side projects, with Auerbach releasing his solo album Keep It Hid in the beginning of the year, and Carney forming the band Drummer, in which he played bass. At the end of 2009, Blakroc, a rap-rock collaboration between the Keys and producer Damon Dash, appeared.
Brothers, released in 2010, became their biggest album yet, generating the hit singles “Tighten Up,” “Howlin’ for You,” and “Next Girl.” It also saw the Keys returning to their tough blues roots with a new grandness, earning three Grammy Awards, landing on year-end lists from NPR to Rolling Stone, and going gold. The band offered a more straight-ahead rock & roll sound with 2011′s El Camino. On the strength of the hit single “Lonely Boy,” El Camino debuted at number two on Billboard’s Top 200 and the Black Keys worked the album hard throughout the next year, releasing “Gold on the Ceiling” as the record’s second single and touring heavily. In the fall of 2012, the Tour Rehearsal Tapes EP — a brief collection of live-in-the-studio run-throughs of 2012 material — was released.
Once again tapping Danger Mouse to produce a follow-up, the duo went back into the studio in summer 2013 to record. Standing in contrast to the short, spiky rock & roll of El Camino, Turn Blue had a psychedelic undercurrent that could be heard on its preceding singles “Fever” and “Turn Blue.” The album appeared early in May 2014 and promptly debuted at the top of the pop charts.
Following the promotional cycle for Turn Blue, the Black Keys went on an extended hiatus. Auerbach kept himself busy with plenty of production gigs, along with forming a second band — the soul-inflected the Arcs –and delivering a second solo album, Waiting for a Song, in 2017. Carney also worked as a producer, notably collaborating with Michelle Branch on her 2017 album Hopeless Romantic.
The Black Keys returned to action in March 2019 with the release of the single “Lo/Hi,” the first song from their ninth album, Let’s Rock. Upon its release in June of that year, the set debuted at four on Billboard’s Top 200 and three on the U.K. charts. In 2021, they spotlighted their long-standing love of Mississippi blues performers like R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough with their Grammy-nominated covers album Delta Kream. Included on the record was a rendition of the classic Big Joe Williams and John Lee Hooker song “Crawling Kingsnake.”
For their 11th album Auerbach and Carney went back to their roots, stripping back their writing process to how they originally wrote in their early days before taking the songs into Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound studios to record. The sessions also saw the duo collaborating with ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons, Kings of Leon’s Angelo Petraglia, and the Reigning Sound’s Greg Cartwright. The first fruits of the sessions appeared in early 2022 with the release of the single “Wild Child” before the album, Dropout Boogie, was issued in May. ~ Matt Collar & Stephen Thomas Erlewine