Music Review: The Arcs “Yours, Dreamily”
As far as side projects go The Arcs’ debut, Yours, Dreamily, safely lands on its feet and checks the right boxes. Really, what we want from a side project isn’t necessarily same-but-different. There is a balance, I think, that most fans want when an artist gives us something “other than,” and that is similar threaded elements which don’t make the new material wholly indistinguishable from that for which the artist is best known. Dan Auerbach – the voice, guitar, and vision of the Black Keys – nailed it with a combination of musician friends including Leon Michels, Richard Swift, Homer Steinweiss, Nick Movshon, and Kenny Vaughan.
Sonically, the Black Keys have gotten predictable and that is Auerbach’s fault. In the Black Keys, he writes the lyrics and the melodies and he’s been doing it for a long, long time. The Arcs gave him the opportunity to sit back and collaborate with musicians in a more relaxed fashion, perhaps with fewer expectations from the larger Black Keys fan base. Auerbach had to navigate tricky waters here because, critically, expectations would necessarily be high for a blues junkie who has shown skill as a producer with pop acts like Lana Del Rey. But given the Keys’ widespread popularity, he did not necessarily have to worry about appealing to a host of singles-downloaders who’ve made the Black Keys ostensibly a pop act itself. Auerbach told Rolling Stone that the aim of this project was to step away from the confines of the Black Keys and make music that “lives up to the kind of standards [the band] loves,” making music he calls “experimental” but not intentionally “over [listeners’] heads.”
Yours, Dreamily is a funky album and many of the LP’s influences – soul music, Captain Beefheart, hip-hop – come through in subtle and nuanced snippets. Though tracks like “The Arc” veer dangerously close to Black Keys territory with fuzzy, pitch-shifted guitar riffs, the majority of the record is unlike, though not entirely, most of Auerbach’s previous work. “Outta My Mind,” despite backup vocals reminiscent of “Lonely Boy,” is a solid single and, early on, shows bits of experimentation that are fully realized in later tracks like “Nature’s Child.”
“Velvet Ditch” is one of the album’s gems, as the soul influence clearly rings throughout the backbeat, creating a melody which Auerbach’s voice fits over nicely. “Cold Companion” also feels like a nice culmination of style – soul, blues, and even a hint of reggae – which seems to really work for this group of musicians. The various musicians’ styles never clash, though they do seem to fit together more on certain tracks, like the aforementioned one, and create something in between pop and rock. The Arcs seem to have captured a sound that many bands try to imitate by relying heavily on electronic and computer-generated sounds. This group delivers these indie rock-cum-pop sounds through pure instrumentation and the result, particularly on the album’s first single track, “Stay In My Corner,” (influenced by the Mayweather/Pacquiao fight) is very successful.
Yours, Dreamily is a bold record for Auerbach because when an artist breaks form and produces something fans may not want to hear, there is always risk involved. Side projects often implode in a calamity of sonic disaster because, often, musicians find themselves exposed as one-dimensional. But, unlike a Slash “side-project,” Auerbach proves he is far more than just a lyricist and guitarist. He’s a real singer and has a gift for arrangement – something one cannot often showcase in a two-piece rock outfit.
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