Most of the advance hype surrounding The Arcs, the new side project band from Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach, is that it departs down an R&B back road altogether different from the elemental electric charge pursued with the guitarist's day-job band.
Truth to tell, The Arcs' immensely fun debut album — cordially titled Yours, Dreamily — is so in keeping with the fuzzed out psychedelic '70s soul turns the Keys have been pursuing regularly ever since Brothers became an out-of-left-field hit in 2010 that you would swear it was a Keys record.
Of course, such comparisons are largely beside the point. Auerbach is such a learned song stylist here — from the economical use of his hotwired guitar work to the choir-like vocals that makes much of Yours, Dreamily sound like it was cut for the Keys' 2011 record de jour El Camino to his alert way of circumnavigating a groove — that presenting his music in the guise of a different band is problematic only for a marketing department.
Admittedly, offering a new slant on vintage psychedelic soul in vogue at the moment. But the creative bar was raised dramatically when Alabama Shakes offered up their killer sophomore record, Sound & Color, earlier this year. Yours, Dreamily isn't as exact or commanding a record as that, but it's almost as organic in its woozy, wigged out sense of soul and groove.
You hear it in the way Everything You Do (You Do For You) creeps up on you out of an ambient alley a la Tom Waits before it settles into its muddy footsteps of a groove. Then there is Velvet Ditch, which ignites with guitar and tripped out flute-like effects that summon fractured Eastern intrigue before consolidating into a tense, textured soul testimony with an Auerbach guitar break — criminally brief as it is — born out of the blues.
Sometimes the retro pop soul revolution is more overt, as on Pistol Made of Bones, another tour de force of guitar fuzz, noir-like ambience and a tango-like riff that, meshed together, offers another El Camino visitation. In other instances, like Chains of Love, the time references blur. The tune sports a stuttering jam crammed full of Philly soul inference, a sweaty percussive groove seemingly tailor made for Auerbach's absent Keys bandmate Patrick Carney and the gurgle of late '70s synths.
So why Arcs and not Keys? Who knows? Maybe it was an acknowledgement for using different personnel for a sound that is essentially unchanged. Perhaps it represents a nod to the growing disparity between the party soul of today's Keys and the primal blues dictated by the band's early records. Ultimately, it doesn't matter. Auerbach may attribute this soul retrofest to The Arcs, but his music is forever in the key of the Keys.
— Walter Tunis Contributing Music Critic