I have a sense the Arkells' new album Morning Report is being misread, or misheard rather. Reviews are mostly talking about the Hamilton lads exploring new sounds, sounds mostly associated with the new crop of popstarts from the 6. Not so. The Arkells do draw from the 6, yes however for them its Hwy 6, the deep well of Robbie Robinson of the Six Nations, what Tom Wilson dubbed music that eased up the highway from Port Dover, what Daniel Lanois called the Simcoe Sound. Its a northern southern sound. The Arkells didn't go looking for it, it found them. The Arkells are not seeking out new sounds, they are drilling down into their own soul, deep into their own history, and their own geography.
The Hammer is the bleeding edge of American soul, gospel, jazz, R&B, another corner of the Chess table. Its Detroit on the airwaves, all of it Marvin and Iggy, the MC5 and Knuckles, Jack White, Jackie Wilson,Wilson Pickett. The Arkells dig it all and mine it and it fuels the Morning Report. They also fuel up on the east coast mellow of Philly and boombastic Boston and the drifting musical mist of New York that washes over Hamilton from across the lake. The Hammer is Canada's ear to the ground of America. The border doesn’t matter to music or to the sonics of the band. They reference American places as readily as they shout out their hometown, (“She was named for her dad’s favourite city,”) on Savannah, brassed up pub rock in the style of Springsteen, think Courtney Cox on stage with the Boss.
Actually the entire album is as joyful as that moment, the girl called on stage, lost in the dance with her fave band. Its what the Arkells are; one moment of joy with your fave band amped up, as the band gets bigger the intimacy remains, They played to 40,000 at WayHome Festival recently and my bird on the street told me even those at the back were touched. The band reaches out giving the audience the opportunity to dance and shout along, “Hung Up” a shout at to the “Gate Keepers, keeping me out,” and a whoo hoo chorus. We’ve all familiar with the gatekeepers and wondered “who made you the President?”
The songs of Morning Report continue the character based narratives the band is known for. The Arkells are the very definition of College Rock, and sing to the boys and girls of the dorms and bus stops about their lives, their loves, their nows, for now anyway, “now you sleep on the couch just a few blocks away,” on “Come Back Home; (“time how fast I would take to take of her bra”) on “Savannah” and (“I do my pre-drinking in the shower”) on Drake’s Dad.” They do stay a safe distance away from the millenials’ futures.
The Arkells future looks rosy but success doesn’t seem to change them much. They still seem like a bunch of good guys who party hard but make sure their dates get home. They don't front about being rock stars either. The first track "Drake's Dad" isn't about them hanging out with the Famous and Beautiful, they hang out with the parents, how Canadian. The second track is about the private school kids, ah so lovely with their perfect teeth but just the stuff of dreams for working class kats from the wrong side of the tracks in Steeltown.
Round and Round begins with a possible nod to Gordon Lightfoot’s Go-Go-Round, switching to a stomping romper in the style of Edward Sharpe, (“I sing along to my headphones, Jules is dancing when I get home, we ramble round and round.”) Making Due rates high on the Springsteen-isms as does “And Then Some”, (“I adore you because you don’t care where I came from”). “ A Little Rain (Song for Pete)” also builds on the Springsteen base, with a New Pornographers pop hook and a glam clap-a-long break. The track is just about everything rock ’n roll draws from thrown into one great balls on fire breakout.
Just like The Arkells' Morning Report builds into one great balls on fire breakout. Now go see them live.