by Brook Gardner-Durbin
The Arkells’ “High Noon,” the Canadian rockers’ third release since 2008, is a light-hearted, danceable album which will cause significant wear on your iPod’s “back” button. The eleven-track disk, released on Aug. 5, is the group’s most successful record to date and debuted at number three on the Canadian Albums Chart. So far, however, The Arkells have not been as widely received here in the United States.
Their lack of success is a shame as they have crafted an interesting, engaging album which stands up well to repeat listening. “High Noon” does a good job varying from track to track: many songs invite comparisons to other groups, including at times The Killers (particularly their early work), The Cars, Electric Light Orchestra (ELO) and Franz Ferdinand, but the album as a whole refuses easy pigeonholing.
“High Noon” is a solid album without a single disappointing song, but the highlights are the well chosen lead single, “Come to Light,” “Leather Jacket” and “Systematic.”
“Come to Light” is built around a simple, catchy guitar riff that could have been an outtake from The Cars or similar ‘80s bands. The Arkells, however, never make the common mistake of overusing their electric guitars, which allows the other instruments room to breathe. Much of the track is a drum and bass duet, with the recurring guitar riff taking turns punctuating the track with a similarly downplayed keyboard. The lyrics paint a picture of a relationship heading downhill and ask the unnamed subject to hold out just a little longer, promising “If we can make it to the morning, we can get things right.”
“Leather Jacket” begins quietly before starting a slow climb to the standout chorus of the album, at which point the listener, expecting a Wall of Sound-like explosion, is surprised to hear most of the instruments drop away. Their absence leaves the lead singer (Max Kerman) exposed on the drums and keyboard — spare and echoing — as he comes to the aid of a friend in need. The group again demonstrates a superb understanding of the “less is more” principle as they manage to interweave background vocals enough to enhance Kerman, but never overpower him or bore the listener by simply echoing every line’s ending.
The album’s closer, “Systematic,” sets two distinguishable groups of violins against each other as the vocals dance from octave to octave, calling to mind such singers such as Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie) or Chris Martin (of Coldplay). Kerman never sounds strained, however — just comfortable in any register as he follows the needs of the song. He demonstrates equal lyrical acumen in the track through his choice to not sing at all at times, opening the track with an almost spoken voice before he soars upward.
The group is hardly a slave to their comparable cousins, however; they have crafted an album with singular pieces (a guitar riff, a phrase on the violin) indebted to their influences, yet the CD as a whole stands alone, unique — the sum is greater than its parts. This is largely due to the group’s superb production values — the album sounds nothing if not polished, thanks to their backing by the giant Universal Music Group. “High Noon” is their second release on the major label, but The Arkells have thus far retained their independent, hungry sound.
“High Noon” is available on iTunes. The Arkells can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/Arkells and at arkells.ca.