Published in HMag : November 2008
All roads lead to Jackson Square. Just ask The Arkells.
“It’s kind of an amazing place,” says keyboardist Dan Griffin. “Jackson is the centre of the city and, for better or worse, [The Arkells] have a lot to do with that area. Whenever we end up down there, there’s always a story to tell.” Those stories are the inspiration behind many of the songs on Jackson Square, the Arkells’ first full-length release, named for the divey downtown shopping centre. For example, the band’s first single, anti-work anthem, Oh, the Boss is Coming! is based, in part, on lead guitarist, Mike DeAngelis’ experience working at a Jackson call centre. Abigail is a love story set in the mall’s former HMV outlet. Heart of the City is similarly located in downtown Hamilton.
Fans of the band might recognize a few of the songs on Jackson Square from Deadlines, an EP that was released on Quarry Records back when The Arkells were Charlemagne (a name they dropped after signing with Toronto’s Dine Alone Records last year). Six of the twelve songs on Jackson Square are repeats. “It’s good to see them the way they are now though,” Griffin says. “There are completely different arrangements that evolved out of years of playing the songs live.”
Re-recordings of songs like Tragic Flaw, Champagne Socialist, and Blueprint prove a polish that wasn’t there on Deadlines, a disc that was released in January 2007. New songs include John Lennon, a super catchy ode to summer, and The Ballad of Hugo Chavez, a bright, bouncy song that, despite its dark subject matter, begs for a sing-along.
Lead singer Max Kerman’s vocals, inconsistent and somehow flatter on the Charlemagne EP, are strong and controlled on Jackson, showing a greater range that does justice to his lyrics. Arrangements are solid, thick, fuller and more realized than they were pre-Arkells, resulting in an album that is tight, upbeat, optimistic and unpretentious. Jackson Square is a throwback to the kind of good-timey rock-and-roll that’s almost been replaced by scarves, skinny jeans and rock’s recent who-can-care-the-least attitude.
As far as The Arkells are concerned, Dine Alone deserves some of the credit for this. Kerman has said there are few Canadian indie labels that could provide The Arkells with the kind of support and resources that Dine Alone has, and Griffin agrees. “For us, the only problem with working for a label was that we wanted to find some people who were as excited about the music as we were,” Griffin says. “We wanted to find people who had the same goals.” Thanks to the hard work of Dine Alone staff, 2008 has been a landmark productive year for The Arkells. In addition to releasing Jackson Square in October, the band recently shot a video for their first single Oh, the Boss is Coming! with the help of a Factor video grant. They also set out on yet their third Canadian tour. Since May 2008, the band has toured with Burlington’s Saint Alvia Cartel and blues heavyweights, The Black Crowes. This fall, they share the stage with well-matched east coasters, Matt Mays and El Torpedo.
If you missed them when they played the Casbah last week, you’ll have to head to Quebec to catch them before December. Otherwise, check their website for upcoming local dates. All roads back lead to Hamilton sooner or later.
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