One of the first songs I ever downloaded from iTunes was a punch of a track called “Deadlines”, by a band I had never heard of called Arkells. They came from Hamilton, a town I had always associated with large smokestacks overlooking Lake Ontario on the way to my grandma’s house.
And now, in 2011, here they are with a brand new album. Michigan Left, on first listen, is noticeably different from their debut album, Jackson Square; although the Arkells’ spirit is retained, this is not Jackson Square Part 2. Gone are the edgy Springsteenisms, replaced with warmer, welcoming guitar riffs that leave you wishing it was summer again, but somehow appropriate for any time of the year. In my interview with their guitarist Mike DeAngelis, he described their most recent outing as “a prettier record”, and rightly so. The album opens up with “Book Club”, an ode to a friend/lover who the singer identifies as “my library, always open for business”. This theme of love and relationship is echoed throughout the record, not to the point of being a concept album, but as an effective means of stringing these predominately cheerful, often reflective and only occasionally stern tracks into a cohesive whole. The boys haven’t deviated too far, however; “Kiss Cam” contains the same foot-tapping Motown elements as “The Ballad of Hugo Chavez” and “John Lennon”, with an infectious chorus to boot.
Another absent element on this record is the sociopolitical commentary we got on Jackson Square; the closest thing Michigan Left gets to that is with the single “Whistleblower”, a track, according to DeAngelis, about a journalist faced with the difficult choice of withholding or releasing potentially scandalous information to the public. It’s by far the heaviest track on the album, and occupies its own little realm near the end of the album, right before “Agent Zero”, a triumphant conclusion for this thoroughly fulfilling collection of songs.
It’s too early to say whether or not this album is Jackson Square’s equal. Like its predecessor, there are songs on here that I know will grow on me over time. I’m looking forward to coming back to this one again and again, and allowing it to speak for different periods and situations in my life the way their last one did. This album is fully capable of standing on its own feet; let’s hear it for the whistleblower. MMMM