Fountain of Dreams
Dan Auerbach's side project's debut stands comfortably alongside The Black Keys and as one of the greatest albums of this great musical year
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Holy crap. When The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach pushed his recent side band The Arcs earlier this year on the late night market, we figured it’d be pretty good. But who would’ve thought the band’s debut Yours, Dreamily would come close to stealing the year and rivaling anything in the Keys legendary catalog? We should’ve apparently. Because the deeper this album gets into your psyche the less entertaining anything else sounds by comparison, and in a year that has unquestioningly stood out as the best of this decade that’s sure as hell saying something.
To be fair, it may be the surprise that makes this LP what it is; having only played “Outta My Mind” in the buildup for the album, the band itself may have been in on the marketing scheme. Recalling “Fever” from The Black Keys’ 2014 joint (which appeared on my, and many others’, Top 10 albums of last year) with more prominent instrumentation (which only makes sense considering The Black Keys is largely booked as a two-man show), the track is enjoyable, but not entirely memorable. The Arcs smartly get it out on the table first, pulling out the old adage of “Let’s start with our lead single first so we can get that piece of crap out of the way early.”
If “Outta My Mind” is a piece of crap, though, then its follow-up “Put a Flower in Your Pocket” is a porcelain throne made of gold that was used by the God of Rock himself; Its killer, otherworldly hook could comfortably stand next to anything from Brothers. or Turn Blue as Auerbach whispers such nuggets of wisdom as “Man’s best friend will bite you just for fun/If they’re gunning for you/You’ve already won.” It serves as a perfect template of how to get the most out of instrumentation by building a song from the ground-up, a trick the band uses with aplomb throughout the rest of the album’s 11 songs like “Chains of Love” a song with more hooks in its own three minutes than any one KISS album in its entirety.
If The Arcs never tops “Put a Flower in Your Pocket” (definitely among my top picks for song of the year) for the rest of the LP, it’s understandable. But that doesn’t mean they’re a one-trick pony; everything brings something to the table from the hauntingly catchy “Pistol Made of Bones” to Jazzy sex jams like “Everything You Do (You Do for You) or the rather explicit “Come and Go” that manages to simultaneously be more uncomfortable than Guns N’ Roses “Rocket Queen” and still sound groovy enough to be produced by Timbaland. The album’s versatility should come as no surprise; Auerbach himself is one of the most diverse and exciting musicians of our age, singing gorgeous falsetto-laced vocals on “Stay in My Corner” one minute and then ripping through fuzz-infused solos on “The Arc” the next.
As the record progresses, it gets increasingly unsettling. From the afore-mentioned “Come and Go” that explores that Smooth Jazz that Noah Nelson loves to the heavily percussed “Rose (Ooh La La)” that sounds like an estranged lover knocking on the door at 2 a.m., this project has given Auerbach the opportunity to try out some new ideas, an opportunity that can consider itself seized. When the band eases into closer “Search the Blue” with plinking piano, lightly strummed acoustic guitar and Auerbach’s falsetto musing “War is over now/I feel my mind returning” and asking the tough questions like “Is anything we do ever going to last?” it’s impossible to discern whether he’s making a statement about war, reminiscing over a bad breakup, or looking back incredulously at the craziness of his own body of work. Sometimes it’s best when we’re all confused.