The Arcs: “Electrophonic Chronic”

Many of our impressions on anything (music, food, movies) fall subject to our expectations.  If you expect a movie will stink but it manages to make you laugh a bit (when you’re supposed to), you’re more likely to come away liking it.  If, however, you expect a masterpiece and it has even a few slight flaws, you might just end up disappointed.

That’s where I am with The Arcs.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe it’s just my expectations.

The Arcs is a side project of The Black Keys front man and guitarist, Dan Auerbach.  I have been a big fan of The Black Keys since the early days.  From “The Big Come Up” and “Thickfreakness” to “Brothers” and “El Camino”, I have loved their gritty, blues-based music.

Then something changed in The Black Keys and the timing makes me think the birth of The Arcs had something to do with it.  In 2014, The Black Keys released one of my least favorite albums of the band, “Turn Blue”.   It was softer, more esoteric and less of their signature blues sound than the previous albums.  The sound of that album carried over to The Arcs first album in 2015 (“Yours, Dreamily”). The recording and release of this debut album by The Arcs also marked the beginning of the five year hiatus of The Black Keys. 

In fact, much of the recording of “Electrophonic Chronic” took place before the untimely death of band member Richard Swift in 2018.  So, despite the album not being released until 2023 the content fell squarely during that “hiatus period”.  The ultimate release of “Electrophonic Chronic” is a tribute to Swift as a bandmate and friend to the members of The Arcs.

I want to love this album, but I don’t.  “Keep on Dreamin’”, “Sunshine” and “Behind the Eyes” are good pop/R&B songs, but as an album it isn’t something that I will go back to for years (or even months) to come. 

I understand that it is completely unfair for a fan to expect an artist to not change and explore musically.  If you listen to the music of Dan Auerbach in The Black Keys beginning with “The Big Come Up” in 2002 through “El Camino” in 2011, the two-piece band expanded their instrumentation and added some production muscle, but the blues-based roots of the music were always there.  Those roots aren’t showing in the music of The Arcs.  Maybe if you don’t like The Black Keys, then this is an album for you. 

“Electrophonic Chronic” is not a bad album at all.  I was just expecting something (hoping for something) from “Electrophonic Chronic” and it just wasn’t there.  Again, maybe it’s just me.