Oftentimes, 80’s influence in music becomes a ham-fisted attempt to recreate what the artist THINKS the decade sounded like. Soaked in nostalgia and synth, the music becomes more about imitation than homage. On their sophomore effort Michigan Left, Ontario-based quintet Arkells falls back on catalogs of 80’s past to intertwine with their organic rock sound as musical nods without sticking to paint-by-numbers arrangements. One can hear Hall & Oates and Springsteen influences, but Arkells kicks it all up with anthemic choruses well suited for stirring live performances.
Opener “Book Club” is blue collar paean goods, with floaty chords taking the listener on a car ride with a local townie friend. The local theme continues with the provincial “Where U Goin,” going the Hall & Oates bouncy soul route, with Max Kerman taking on John Oates’ deep hiccup on lines such as, “Nobody likes to t-t-talk about it.” There’s some Ben Folds-esque jaunt in there, hip syncopation marrying two decades of styles. Title track “Michigan Left” throws in Kerman’s love of baseball while concluding the three track hometown opening act in a scenic sweep, recalling the exubercance of “In a Big Country” with the song’s harmonies.
The second act hits on familiar relationship themes in the five tracks “Coffee,” “On Paper,” “Kiss Cam,” “One Foot Out the Door,” and “Bloodlines.” An endearing conversational song, “Coffee” is complete earworm and pitch perfect with lyrics like “No, no really, this one’s on me. I’ll let you get the next time we go out for coffee.” The following track “On Paper” makes for a darling companion piece. “Kiss Cam” takes a bittersweet, guitar heavy stroll through Hall & Oates type harmonies, adding a heavy dose of indie-rock hollers. “One Foot Out the Door” adds chilly synth in an airy, meditative Police-esque manner and has perhaps the most visceral set of lyrics within this section, striking a nerve with images like “This time she really tried – came home and the place was decorated. Put his pictures in frames, even ones of his friends that she hated.” Ending the act is the deceptively buoyant and colorful “Bloodlines.”
Closing the album are the rollicking “Whistleblower,” one last anthem that incorporates ghostly call-and-response, and the escalating “Agent Zero.” Both make for an introspective third act, a raw and vulnerable lyrical conclusion disguised by the strong instrumental arrangements. “Agent Zero” in particular catches one off guard, starting off icy and downtempo before opening up into a cheery rock hymn.
Arkells has quite an exciting time ahead of them following their Juno Award for 2012 Group of the Year. Touring alongside The Maine, you can catch them in on May 18th at the House of Blues.