The Black Keys
It used to be that garage rock was the domain of losers, grimey no-girlfriend-having dirtballs who dedicated their life to trashcan beats and scuzz-on-scuzz guitar tones (when not keeping their collection of obscure 7-inch singles in pristine condition). That the two-man Rubber City army of Dan Auerbach and bespectacled drummer Patrick Carney managed to move from the genre’s dive bar circuit to filling enormodomes worldwide is a testament to the duo’s ability to take the core of what makes garage rock tick and turn it inside out so that “norms” are finally invited to the cool kids’ party. Last year’s El Camino (Nonesuch) was the final straw, a juke-joint shake-’em-on-down howl that could have dudes in jean jackets raising their fists but also find polite society shaking their drinkies, pinkies out, in unison with the shimmy beat. “Lonely Boy” has Auerbach’s nasty tone and Carney’s bucket beat, but it also has angelic melodies, down-home charm, and a go-go buoyancy that transcends any genre ghetto the music’s grime might try to bottom out into. It’s not that there’s a dearth of this sort of thing out there, it’s more that no one else is uniting the signifiers in such an inclusive way as the Keys circa 2012. As an inversion of arena rock conventions, garage rock has officially gone through the wormhole, and the populist twist of the Keys is either the endgame or a new beginning for rock in the 21st century.
RUNNERS-UP: Bon Iver, Bon Iver; M83, Midnight City; Foster the People, Torches