A Word a Day
Arkells’ newest album, Morning Report, is their most honest album. The record is exactly what it claims to be, a retelling of the events of days past to people who wish to listen. It is also one of their most experimental albums; one which seeks to bridge the gap between Arkells’ own indie-pop roots and the hip-hop influenced musical landscape of today. Claiming that “top 40 pop is way more progressive,” Max Kerman and his band have worked with many different kinds of producers to achieve their characteristic sound on this album. They have influences from many different artists in these tracks, and the album itself becomes a sort of amalgamation of them. These come together to make this album captivating and interesting. Morning Report is an aesthetically and thematically congruent album, both musically and lyrically. Furthermore, as the album artwork suggests, it is a report of based-on-real-life events, so it is important for the listener to keep in mind that between each song there exists a night full of debauchery and that Kerman is reciting to the listener his perspective of the events of each one. Those results in an album that is simultaneously cathartic and authentic.
The first track on Morning Report, “Drake’s Dad” is a perfect representation of Arkells’ signature sound. It begins sparsely with the drum set banging out the main rhythm of the song, simple guitar chords and the lead singer’s voice at full volume. The lyrics then proceed to report to us the story of the night before. In this case, Kerman relates the time when they met fellow Canadian Aubrey Graham’s father in a bar in Canada. This song showcases the story-telling nature of the album while using heavily distorted electric guitars and punchy percussion to enhance the story. In true Arkells’ fashion, this song also boasts an impressive array of instrumentation: from synthesizers to energetic drum kits, guitars and a beautifully low bass. Arkells is also not afraid to stray outside of their traditional sound by including choral background vocals that provide an obvious gospel influence amidst their indie-rock style. “Drake’s Dad” is a characteristic Arkells track because it shows that they are not afraid to stray outside of their traditional sound to build upon their indie-rock roots.
“Private School” is Arkells’ most strident effort to bridge the gap between indie-rock and rap. The song has an overt hip-hop influence, starting with a “The Bridge is Over” style riff with low rhythmic piano notes. The bass is very low and gritty with the rhythmic percussion prevalent throughout the entire song. Although there are obvious elements of hip-hop in this song, one can tell of Arkells’ other influences: Billy Talent, Anti-Flag and Foster the People. The song’s tempo is in kind of slow motion, allowing for an investigation into the irony of private school life and Kerman’s sense of feeling like an outcast. The lyrics in this song are both assertive and humorous and are a good representation of the lyrical inclinations of Kerman. Perhaps telling us a little of his own history at McMaster school where all five original band members attended, the song ends coldly with an affirmation that for private school kids, “life is so simple.” Though, what might be taken as nostalgia instead seems to be an ironic retelling of the social scene that Kerman and his band have been subjected to throughout their entire lives.
Although they do not hesitate to comment on society, Arkells are also no strangers to crafting love songs. Songs like, “My Heart’s Always Yours,” “Passenger Seat,” “Come Back Home” and “And Then Some” are examples of the band’s sensitivity and emotional range. Even in their love songs, Kerman is able to maintain the story-like feeling that is at the heart of Morning Report. “Passenger Seat,” for instance, has to do with that deflated feeling of being alone on a road early in the morning. It has a much different vibe than the preceding four tracks on the album, beginning slowly with only a piano, later to build up intensity as Kerman’s voice is introduced. The bass kicks on every beat in expectation of something surreal. The listener feels like they are in the car with Kerman, feeling his pain and his observation that “songs don’t sound the same, without you in the passenger’s seat.”
“Come Back Home” is a love song with a similar message, portraying the absence of love that Kerman once had. Although the lyrics are reminiscent of “Passenger seat,” the music itself is a little more layered and complex. In the chorus, Kerman’s vocals are allowed to truly soar, and the falsetto is heavenly, the drums switch from closed-punchy hi-hats to fluid eighths on the ride cymbals. Each verse is allowed to breathe, with the bass able to have its proper time in the spotlight. Ultimately, each instrument becomes more complex as the song progresses, introducing a brass section that flourishes by the end of the track. The song fades out with the drums, sounding almost like a break beat, perhaps offering material for potential hip-hop producers to work with. In every aspect of Arkells’ songwriting, they seek to push the limit of traditional indie-pop.
Other songs like “Savannah” and “Round and Round” showcase Arkells’ pop-punk influences. Part of their sound in this respect is their well-placed acoustic guitar riffs. In “Savannah,” a refreshing acoustic guitar starts off the song, slowly introducing a shimmering electric guitar riff accompanied by fast eighth notes on the tom to fill the lower register. The drums blare throughout the entire song exacerbating the melody of the synthesizer and keeping the pop-punk energy alive. A melodic trumpet solo enhances the reminiscent attitude of the song, harkening back to the era of pop-punk ska bands like NOFX. “Round and Round” has a similar feel to it while asserting that effort to bridge the gap between indie-rock and hip-hop. A bass drum beats simply on every beat to provide consistency to the main vocals shining through to keep that pop-punk energy while the verse itself is rhythmically funky and the synthesizer drones a chunky west-coast style note or soaring in “Funky Worm” style. By the end of this track, these electronic accompaniments become a part of Arkells’ signature sound.
The album ends with “Hangs the Moon,” and it is the perfect finale for Morning Report. Piano chords strike softly as Kerman lays down his tender vocals. The synthesizer drones in the background while twinkling acoustic guitar riffs panned individually into both sides of the speaker enhance the space of the song. The song itself is almost a slow drag with a marching band-style snare hits fading out with chords on the piano dripping in nostalgia and peace. The track is the concluding thought of the album. It is the picture of the night’s moon that will come to inform the next morning’s report; the same night that is destined to repeat itself mechanically in some iteration every night for the rest of our lives.