RATING: 3/5 STARS
Canada's alt-rock darlings Arkells
are no strangers to busting their asses. Over the course of three albums, two EPs, and a whole lotta time on the road, the band has managed to escape the small-town rock scene of Hamilton, Ontario and have reached some pretty impressive heights. Of course, the band isn't one to rest on their laurels, and on their fourth and latest album, Morning Report
, Arkells attempt to keep their upward momentum going by taking their sound in bold new directions. While there's still the no-BS rock charm of the bands past records, Morning Report
throws in genres like pop and hip-hop into the mix, as well as much sleeker and polished production. It's always a brave move for a band to try something new in their sound, which can either lead to a welcomed or polarizing reaction by fans, so for curiosity's sake I sat down with Morning Report
to see just how well Arkells did with their musical experimentations. Here are my first impressions of each track:
Packed with the energy, wit, and slight humor Arkells have become known for, as well as some new production tricks, "Drake's Dad" is a pretty solid opener and gives you a good idea what kind of album you're in for. Lyrically, the song's pretty on-the-nose, describing a drunken night out with friends that gets wonderfully out of hand, which may bother folks who like more room for interpretation in their music. That said, it's still a really fun song to listen to, at times feeling like you're being let in on an inside joke among a group of bros.
A satirical and cheeky take on rich kids who don't know how good they have it, this song perfectly captures the anxiety and confusion of trying to fit in and survive a high school party. The heavy drums and grimy bass create a tense and uneasy mood, and the vocals drunkenly belt out about hooking up, doing molly, and blacking out, all in the name of keeping up with the "cool" kids. The lyrics are fantastically acidic, with Max Kerman spouting probably one of my favorite lyrics in a long time, "Private school kids, life is so simple/Born on third base, thought they hit a triple." Anyone who felt out-of-place in high school can probably relate well to this song, including me, being someone who in fact went to a private school and never felt comfortable at parties. I kid my high school peers...I was never invited to parties.
"My Hearts Always Yours"
This track is a really good example of the band's ability to construct a detailed story within a quick and catchy rock tune, in this case a story about someone who's in it for the long haul with the one they love. I'm getting some serious Springsteen vibes from this track, but executed with a more pop-y production style. Overall, this track's a little more polished than the band's past work, but is still a super catchy tune that will satisfy long-time friends and be a welcome surprise to new ones.
Joining the ranks of Layla, Lola, Gloria, Victoria, and many others in the "rock song named after a girl" sub-genre, "Savannah" is an incredibly upbeat and celebratory song that is one of the catchier tunes on the album. Acoustic guitars drive the song, but it's still pretty hard-rocking thanks to its relentless drumbeat and emotionally packed vocals, and the trumpet solo was a nice unexpected touch as well. Whoever this Savannah is, she should be happy to know the song going out to her is pretty damn good.
Another great example of solid lyricism that tells a story from Max Kerman, this time about someone who is feeling the weight of a long drive alone without his significant other. Intense piano and synths are prominent throughout the song, but never overpower the vocals, and there are really good dynamics throughout the track. You can definitely hear some mainstream pop characteristics in terms of production, which may throw off old Arkells fans, but I personally don't mind the slight change in sound. In fact, I commend the band for not staying in their comfort zone and trying out some new influences. Even with that pop influence, the song still packs plenty of raw emotion and tenderness to make it worth checking out.
This song is a pretty clear example of the band leaning more towards a radio-ready rock sound, as it's a cleanly produced, catchy, and easily digestible rock tune. Again, the Boss is strong in this one, but there's also a sense of Tom Petty as well, and the guitar part has a pretty cool lead riff. It's a perfectly fine song, but compared to the other songs I've listened to so far, it's not the most memorable one in the world. Maybe it'll take time for it to grow on me, but going solely on first impressions, this is in my opinion the weakest track on the first half of the album. That said, it's still pretty catchy and all that, it's just that compared to the other tracks that preceded it, it doesn't really stand out a whole lot.
"Round and Round"
Harking back to the classic-rock and folk vibes of the late 60s, this is an easy-going track that pulls out all the stops, from acoustic guitars to synths to a horn section. It starts off as a mellow folk ballad with a bright and delicate acoustic guitar lead, and then opens up into a beautifully textured Beatles-esque rock jam. It's chill, mellow, and pretty easy to love, but my one little caveat is the fade-out at the end. Personally, I like to hear a solid, committed ending to a song, especially a rock song, so the fade-out was a tiny bit underwhelming for me. Otherwise, this is a solid tune, and I liked pretty much everything else about it.
The Rolling Stones called, they want their swagger back. I'm always down for some chicken strutting and bluesy guitar tones, so I'm pretty into this song. It's a fun, sassy, and high-energy track that leans more towards the rock-n-roll side of Arkells' overall sound. Even with the overall pop aesthetic in the album, theres always some room for some old-school rock, and Hung Up is a pretty nice addition to the record in that regard. Not much else to say, honestly, other than that its a damn good rock tune.
"Come Back Home"
I'll admit, this one took a couple plays to grow on me, but I actually like it a fair amount at this point. I was a little thrown off by the sleek production that almost makes it sound like a mainstream country song, but there's still plenty of rock and soul to make the tune work. It's another track that shows love for Springsteen, particularly with the inclusion of sax in the chorus, as well as another one where the band tries out some new sounds and genres. Like the rest of the record, it may take some time to get used to the band's change, but give it time and it's bound to grow on you.
"A Little Rain (A song For Pete)"
A fist-pumping anthem about keeping your head up no matter what, this is my personal favorite track on the album. It's loud, energetic, and fun, perhaps one of the most fun songs on the record so far. It's hard not to feel pumped up after this song, thanks to its marching beat and urgent piano lead, and the track is another example of Kerman's witty lyricism ("I never tried religion, but man, I'll try anything once"). You'll just want to run around in a pouring rainstorm screaming along to the chorus "A little rain aint bringing me DOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWNN!!!" This incredibly catchy song is a strong edition to the album's second half, and does well at preventing the album from losing steam.
"And Then Some"
Simply put, this one's a pretty straightforward love-rock song, like one of those songs you'd hear at the end of a quirky teen rom-com as the two love interests drive off into the sunset. In all honesty, it's a little too sugar-coated for me to listen to regularly, but people who are into cute, gushy, harmless love tunes will probably dig this one. Being closer to the end, this track screams "Album filler" to me, but it's still enjoyable enough to merit a spot on the record.
"Hangs The Moon"
Maybe it's just me, but this song totally reminds me of when George Bailey promises he'll "lasso the moon" for Mary in It's A Wonderful Life
. Optimistic holiday classics aside, this track is a beautifully crafted slow burn that caps off the record on a pretty high note. In an album full of lively rockers and in-your-face drumbeats, it was a nice choice to end it with a quieter and more low-key song, just to prevent the album from feeling one-note. Not only is it the calmest song on the album, it's also the shortest, but it gets the job done by adding to the album's already-full emotional potency and not dragging out the ending.
In an album full of risks and unconventional choices for a rock band, I'd say Arkells did as well as any band trying out something new could do: Some songs hit the mark, some could've been better, but overall, the album is a pretty enjoyable final product to listen to. Whether or not you're a fan of Morning Report
, you have to respect Arkells for trying something new when they very easily could've stayed in their comfort zone, delivered a predictable album, and probably done just as well. Making music is all about growth and improvement, and Arkells show they're ready and eager to keep moving forward towards bigger and louder horizons.
And check out our wildly gorgeous sunset session with the band at Bands + Brews!