Strange Times: Florida and the Black Keys

Sep 7, 2012 by

 

(Editors’ note: Our annual spring training trip is a four day whirlwind consisting of countless ballpark draft beers, tools assisting us in very little sleep and baseball.)

Spring, 2009

(Matt)

The road trip was nearing its conclusion.  By mid-morning we had checked out of our seedy motel and packed up the car one last time.  We hop on the highway and head east.  The city of Tampa fades from our view as we settle in for a long drive back home to North Carolina.

We hardly speak.  I would suspect there was not much internal dialogue happening either.  This comes as no surprise.  Sleep-deprived, sun baked, hung over and weary from the miles driven over the course of four days and three nights all played a factor in the silence between us.

Fifteen minutes or so had passed. We pulled off on the very next exit to refuel and load up on caffeinated products of our choosing.  We settle up with the cashier and walk out back to the car.  My car reconvenes the road.   Energy drinks and coffee at our sides, we hope to buy a few hours before fatigue makes its presence known.

I loosely guide the steering wheel with one hand as my other hand fumbles its way to the center console to grab my IPod.  I connect the IPod to the auxiliary chord and scroll through the artists.  My search abruptly ceases upon reaching the midway point of the “B” section.  I turned to Alan and held up the display screen towards his general direction.

“Heard this?”

(Alan)

Florida.  I lived in a trailer park in Orlando for a short time as a child and mostly remember playing with Weebles, running around all year long as if it were summer and a really scary rumor that circulated the summer of my 5th year.  Apparently there was a man running amuck and chopping off the penises of young boys in public restrooms – this meant lots of embarrassing trips to the bathroom with my mom.

Trailers, Sunshine and Serial Maimers were my working knowledge of Florida, and I can’t say with any honesty that returning was a high priority for me.  However, I was super excited about an extended road trip filled with debauchery and baseball – two of my favorite things. (Whenever I think of our trips to FL I’m always reminded of the scene in Fear and Loathing when Lazlo explains the contents of the trunk.)

Over the course of those sun soaked days I gained an appreciation for basketball (the beginnings of my new found love of the NBA), Sports Talk Radio, Satellite Radio, Bradenton, FL (Big Love to Bradenton – the most beautiful broke down and busted little shithole in the world, and I say that with nothing but affection), the true Florida – not the bullshit condo crap – and The Black Keys.

(Matt)

There is a desolate stretch of highway in Central Florida that rests between Tampa and Orlando.  This particular part of Interstate 4 runs about 70 miles from city to city.  You turn your head to the left or right only once to view the Florida terrain.  It remains identical from one exit you pass to the other.  You glance at the horizon, above it a cloudless blue sky; below it a scattering of palm trees and miles of wetlands.  No infrastructure is present until you close in on the outskirts of Orlando.

Alan adjusts his seat to decline just slightly and leans his head back for comfort.  I push play on the IPod and raise the volume on the car stereo.  A slow groove begins to pour out from my car speakers….

(Alan)

I knew who the Black Keys were, I’d heard some songs and knew they were a band I’d dig; I’d just never gotten around to really giving them a listen.  When Matt pressed play, I was in the perfect state to receive.  Freshly stoned, absolutely brain dead and worn out, I had nothing left of myself, no barriers, no preconceived notions, just an empty vessel waiting to be filled.

For an album titled Attack and Release, it starts off subtly with the opening synth and soft country picking; reverb drenched electric guitar plays mostly for atmosphere.  Then right about 2:17 the boys go big, church style organ dances around the more pronounced electric guitar; the drums that had played a cool ramshackle shuffle come stomping in to let you know this is in fact a Black Keys album.  Of all those words I just typed, the most important one is “atmosphere”.

The Keys, along with Dangermouse, know how to build a sound from the ground up.  Every track is full to the brim with layered instrumental work, deft production and the perfect fill whenever one is called for.  I couldn’t possibly tell you all of the instruments used on this album, yet there is an economy of sound and style making it never feel over the top.  Remember When Side A comes to mind as a perfect example.

Then there are the vocals… good god Auerbach’s voice is one for the ages: powerful, soulful and old beyond its years.  Like John Lennon, he’s not afraid to take his perfect voice and run it through any manner of effects, pulling even more emotion out of it.  Put the album on shuffle and where ever it lands will be a great example of what I’m talking about.  If that’s too chaotic, you can’t go wrong with I Got Mine, Strange Times, Psychotic Girl or So He Won’t Break.  Seriously, just hit shuffle and allow yourself to fall apart, rejoice and bask in the sound.

I’ve made that trip to Florida with Matt many times since, each one filled with stories and memories.  We’ve listened to a lot of good music, watched some great baseball and seen more than one sunrise after a long night of talking in some shitty little hotel.  One thing that’s constant is that long trip back.  We don’t worry about main roads; we make our way down lonesome highways and inner strips of concrete, taking the time to appreciate a part of America that is truly wild.

Attack and Release has become the album that defines that trip, the perfect album to guide us home after four days of depravity through Central and Southwest Florida.  Whenever it plays, I’m instantly transported to that car, riding shotgun, reclined with eyes closed against the Florida sun, awash in the sounds of what has come to mean summer for me.  I’m not sure it makes any sense that a couple of kids from Ohio can make the quintessential soundtrack for back country Florida, but they did, and I’m alright with that.

 

 

 

 

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