Dan Auerbach's The Arcs: 'Yours, Dreamily', Reviewed

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 A few years ago, British rock journalist Simon Reynolds published an excellent book called Retromania, in which he explored the increasing proliferation of backwards-looking pop music at the expense of new sounds. Mind you, this book was published before the Black Keys’ mainstream arrival. Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys is the consummate retromaniac. Along with fellow traditionalist (and sworn enemy) Jack White, Auerbach and bandmate Patrick Carney have stuck closely to classic notions of garage blues and soul-infused rock, raging against the dying of the white light/white heat. Auerbach is a preeminent purveyor of what I like to call “Rolling Stone Rock” — contemporary artists whose adherence to older sounds will earn them near-automatic accolades from rock criticism’s titan-in-chief. And so now Auerbach arrives with a new side project, the Arcs, and their first album, Yours, Dreamily. While it does sport a few new tricks, it’s largely more of the same.

It seems that Auerbach’s time as a producer for Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence has crept its way into his latest project. Yours, Dreamily is quite the perfect title for the project, as songs float by in a hazy, dreamlike sepiatone state. Auerbach manipulates his voice into a breathier, higher register than previously revealed, as on tracks like “Nature’s Child” and cabaret closer “Searching the Blue”. It’s one of the more novel elements of the Arcs record, as the project as a whole hits far less of a scuzzy, hard-hitting groove than Auerbach’s normal Keys output. The production touch is lighter, the bass less well-tread, and the overall mood a little lighter and freer. Homage as it might be, it seems like Auerbach is having more fun here than on previous Keys releases, unburdened of some of that “rock and roll standard bearer” responsibility.

And yet, the true rockers on Yours, Dreamily are unmistakably Auerbach’s work and will prove entirely familiar to Keys fans. Proper opener “Outta My Mind” sports crashing cymbals and psychedelic keyboards not unlike Turn Blue standout “Fever”. Highlight “Put A Flower in Your Pocket” plays out like the hippie-inflected sequel to “Everlasting Light”, the superlative opener to the Keys’ own Brothers. And lead single “Stay In My Corner” is a breezy, pleasant Motown-inflected slow-burner that would sound right at home in the tail end of a Keys concert.

It’s not that Auerbach’s new material is boring or poorly done — quite the contrary — the record’s production is pristine, the band’s musicianship is absolutely tight, and the songwriting is excellent. It’s just that at this point, this is all fairly standard for Auerbach. Fourteen songs is a bit long for a record with a fairly uniform style and the album’s second half drags more prominently once it has freed itself of the more memorable singles. But then again, what can you really expect when Auerbach’s whole aesthetic is a reinvigoration of older styles? He’s never exactly been concerned with the future.

Yours, Dreamily will be perfect comfort food for rock and roll purists. In many ways, its entire goal can be summed up in the refrain of “Stay In My Corner” — “I’ll stay in my corner, babe / I’ll fight for you if you’ll fight for me.” Just as he has for the last decade, Dan Auerbach will continue to fight for the spirit of blues and garage rock, so long as those still exist who don’t prefer Kanye and Taylor Swift. His fans know exactly what they are getting with the Arcs and they wouldn’t have it any other way. This album is theirs, dreamily. B