The Black Keys are back with their twelfth studio album, Ohio Players, a project that showcases the duo’s strong blues roots and a style of songwriting that incorporates a blend of fresh influences. 

The album, which dropped on April 5, opens with “This is Nowhere,” a high energy anthem of placeless wandering, followed by “Don’t Let Me Go,” a track that showcases frontman Dan Auerbach’s vocal range alongside a variety of creative guitar tones. 

These sonic cornerstones tend to drive the melodic and harmonious pieces of the band’s music, notably on El Camino, a 2011 album where Auerbach’s virtuoso skill was on full display. 

Ohio Players also sees the band explore outside their musical comfort zone with rap collaborations. The tracks “Candy and Her Friends” and “Paper Crown” both feature verses from Lil Noid and Juicy J, respectively.

Juicy J’s verse on “Paper Crown” — over Auerbach’s distinct guitar fuzz and high-pitched background vocals — is not stilted as could be expected, but instead rings true to the band’s touch while incorporating a brand new genre into their music.

The album closes strongly with “Fever Tree” and “Every Time You Leave,” which both continue on the album’s established themes of loneliness, heartbreak, and alienation — themes matched by distorted power chords and Auerbach’s belted, melancholic lyrics.

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These tracks add an essential element to the album, which traverses between emotional highs and lows. “Fever Tree” starts with a series of clean blues licks before Auerbach kicks up the heaviness with louder, overdriven sounds.

“Between the shadows and circumstance / Blood on the flowers, tears in the glass / She’s gone tomorrow, no sun today / I swallow all of this, and try to walk away,” Auerbach sings on “Fever Tree.”

“Every Time You Leave” uses sonic variation as well, incorporating clean tones amidst blues fuzz.

The duo’s closing tracks reinforce what they’re all about– powerful lyrics complemented by impactful blues instrumental undertones.

However, the album falls short in a few places, notably on the track “Beautiful People (Stay High).” The song feels like the soundtrack to a fast-food commercial, failing where the rest of the album succeeds in instrumental creativity, with a repetitive chorus that doesn’t say anything substantive.

Similarly, “Live Till I Die” features a flat, predictable chorus, and is overcrowded with guitar tracks that clash with each other rather than blend into a successful mix.

While the album does not match the high standards set by El Camino, or the more recent Let’s Rock from 2019, Ohio Players surpasses the largely forgettable Dropout Boogie, which the band released in 2022.

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The Black Keys are old but cool, traditional yet flexible, a style present in their often sardonic way of promoting their projects, and they have capitalized off this retro vibe throughout their career.

The duo has always presented the traditional blues-rock themes in creative ways, which continues on Ohio Players, with the blend of what made El Camino so successful while also branching out into new avenues, notably the inclusion of hip-hop aspects. 

The band also announced an upcoming tour for the album across Europe and North America.