Despite living about an hour away from Hamilton for my entire life, it wasn’t until last year that I finally visited the city. Until then, all I thought about when I thought of Hamilton was factories, steel, smog, B.A. Johnston—and Arkells. Of course, the city is quite nice once you visit it, but it’s no coincidence that Arkells are one of the first bands you’ll think of when you think of the Hammer.
Arkells’ workman-like approach to rock quickly made them a Canadian gem. If you haven’t heard the phrase “I’m John Lennon in ’67” you probably haven’t lived in Canada for the last five or six years.
When bands “make it big” like Arkells did, it’s easy to come under the assumption that a band can stop trying new things and stagnate. With Arkells, the complete opposite has happened. On High Noon, the band is sounding more spirited than ever. Plenty of hooks to sing along with and sly commentaries on matters past and present.
Sounding like the beginning of an 80s soundtrack, “Fake Money” opens with piano, and Max Kerman’s gruff and distinctive vocals somehow then make it sound like something from the east coast. But as the guitars come in, the song transforms into a powerful opening statement. At one point, Kerman sings “You’re praying to gods who are meaningless to me.”
The band pays tribute to its hometown (and maybe past eras?) with “Cynical Bastards,” that namedrops Jackson Square and says “If the 80s were tough then the 90s were mean.”
For those looking for crowd-moving numbers, look no further than “11:11” or “Dirty Blonde.” The former’s chorus of “You made a wish at 11:11, I held your hips at 12:34” is sure to get caught in your head and the latter’s tempo is just about double the rest of the album, allowing for maximum grooving.
Arkells are at their most fun when they’re slyly joking around on songs that sound earnest and serious. “Leather Jacket” may have one of the cheesiest choruses ever, but the song takes on a whole meaning with the last line Kerman sings, almost as an aside. “Hey Kids!” is so much fun because it manages to make its old-timey, classic-rock vibe a poignant societal commentary with the chorus: “Hey kids! You’re so precious/You’re just a boy like the rest of us.”
Of course the band isn’t above seriousness either. Single “Never Thought That Would Happen” is a look back at lost youth, and may even be a meta-commentary on how the band has grown up over the years.
Though it’s maybe not the soundtrack to an old-west shootout, High Noon is perhaps the strongest entry in Arkells’ discography thus far.
Top Tracks: “Fake Money”; “Hey Kids!”; “Systematic”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)