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The Student Journalism Site of Millard South High School

We Are Millard South

The Student Journalism Site of Millard South High School

We Are Millard South

‘Ohio Players’ walks razor’s edge between quality and mediocrity

Artist+Statement%3A+Making+review+art+with+the+musicians+in+photonegative+%2F+silhouetted+against+the+background+is+a+concept+that+Ive+been+kicking+around+in+my+head+for+a+while+now.+I+got+to+two+separate+images+of+the+members+of+the+Black+Keys+%28Pat+Carney+on+the+left%2C+Dan+Auerbach+on+the+right%29%2C+put+them+on+the+same+canvas%2C+made+them+semi-transparent%2C+filled+in+their+forms+with+dark+colors%2C+and+outlined+the+details+in+white.+Created%2C+as+always%2C+with+digital+illustration+tools+in+Photoshop%2C+which+was+especially+helpful+in+isolating+and+manipulating+the+layers+so+I+could+get+the+desired+effect.+
Chase Zagurski
Artist Statement: Making review art with the musicians in photonegative / silhouetted against the background is a concept that I’ve been kicking around in my head for a while now. I got to two separate images of the members of the Black Keys (Pat Carney on the left, Dan Auerbach on the right), put them on the same canvas, made them semi-transparent, filled in their forms with dark colors, and outlined the details in white. Created, as always, with digital illustration tools in Photoshop, which was especially helpful in isolating and manipulating the layers so I could get the desired effect.

Alternative rock duo The Black Keys are a relatively lesser known act on the modern music scene, but that hasn’t stopped them from enjoying a great deal of success, allowing them to crank out 12 studio albums over a two decade long period. Their latest outing, Ohio Players, is complicated, to say the very least. A collaborative effort much too ambitious for its own good, lacking in the Keys’ characteristic direction and discipline, and featuring a mix best described as cluttered, Ohio Players features extremely high highs and even lower lows, straddling the line between the two in a strange dance toward disappointing mediocrity.

As mentioned, the album is a collaborative project, the likes of which is largely unheard of for the band’s main catalog. Multi-instrumentalists Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney are still present and accounted for on every track, providing core instrumentation, writing, and production duties, but they are accompanied by a veritable laundry list of guest appearances, co-writers, and production credits. Collaborations include the legendary Noel Gallagher, former lead guitarist of Oasis; indie artist Beck, best known for his 1993 hit “Loser”; hip-hop artists Juicy J (of Three 6 Mafia fame) and Lil Noid; and producer Dan the Automator.

At least based on their individual merits, I can only sing high praises for most of the album’s tracks (music videos for all of which can be found on The Black Key’s official YouTube channel): “Please Me (Till I’m Satisfied)” sounds like proper pre-commercial breakout Keys at their gritty garage peak, while “On the Game,” “You’ll Pay,” and “Every Time You Leave” give hints of stylistic evolution while still putting Dan and Pat’s multi-instrumental and writing skills on display. “I Forgot to Be Your Lover,” a cover of a 1968 William Bell track of the same name, leans harder into the soul side of things, replete with tear-jerking strings and one of Auerbach’s best vocal performances of the last decade.

Rather interestingly, Ohio Players also has two prominent rap rock features, “Candy and Her Friends” and “Paper Crown.” The transition between its contrasting pop rock and hip-hop halves is admittedly a little rough for the former, while the latter is stepped on somewhat by lead vocals provided by Beck; even with these faults, both tracks are – impressively – thoroughly enjoyable, mostly as a result of their special efforts to blend their rap and rock elements.

Another of the few times the project’s disparate collaborative elements coalesced to produce something that was actually moving, both sonically and artistically, was “Read ‘Em And Weep”: a chugging, instrumental surf epic, underscored by haunting saxophone and organ work, all distorted to crisp perfection.

So, why the disappointment? First of all, there are a few stinkers among the track listing. An attempt at clinging to the old garage rock formula The Black Keys are renowned for keeps “Live Till I Die” interesting for about 30 seconds, but its shoddy writing somehow leaves it more saccharine and vapid than the lead single, “Beautiful People (Stay High),” which itself is a bubbly, song-of-the-summer-style heap fit only for the finest of car commercials and tailgate party playlists. On top of that, “Only Love Matters” is possibly the most sonically uninteresting thing to ever appear on an alternative record.

Possibly the biggest issue plaguing Ohio Players is, rather ironically, how it sounds. I have no idea if it’s just a major mixing malfunction or something, but every track – and I’m talking every track, none are spared – sounds so crazily overproduced. By all accounts, The Black Keys had mastered pacing, arrangement, and production, constantly cranking out pieces that weren’t just listenable, but artful. This album has absolutely none of that. Instead of the sparse, stripped down sound that characterized previous releases, the mix of Ohio Players is teeming with extraneous instruments and effects – mere filler that serves little purpose other than to crowd an already overstuffed soundscape and drown out the work that is actually worthy of praise.

This is partly because of the highly collaborative nature of the album. Each guest artist brings their own style to the table – an arrangement that creates far more conflict than harmony, especially when that massive body of talent is drawing from so many disparate ends of the rock spectrum. Further cracks begin to show when looking at the album as a unit. Despite the strengths of many of its individual tracks, Ohio Players unequivocally fails as a unified project. The whole album lacks a central stylistic direction. No two songs arouse the same feelings, or give off the same vibes.

“Fever Tree” serves as a good example of everything frustrating about Ohio Players. It has endless potential and power bound up in its clever hard rock writing and pounding electric instrumentation that lets the raw emotional weight of the lyrics shine through. It sounds great – until it’s ruined by a chorus comprised solely of “nah-nah-nah” drivel. The choice not to write more involved lyrics was a deliberate one, part of an all too common pattern wherein, time after time, the wrong creative decision was made – whether it’s in writing, structure, or production – dragging otherwise good music down. And that’s really the problem at the heart of Ohio Players: it’s such an odd, frustrating mix of stellar, strange, and sickening, trying to live together in the same space, leaving one to wonder what exactly went wrong.

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Chase Zagurski
Chase Zagurski, Reporter
Chase is a senior. This is his first year on the newspaper staff. Outside of academics, Chase enjoys swimming, shooting, playing video games, and listening to music.
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