Arkells - Jackson Square (Cover Artwork)


Jackson Square (2008)

Dine Alone

Don't worry, this has to do with the Gaslight Anthem -- albeit a very little, but at least it's something. I found myself drawn to the name Arkells in an article that (cryptically) referenced those good old Jersey upstarts. Since the stage has been set, I might as well give my take on the comparison of the two bands; it may be the only way I keep some of your attention, anyway. I guess you could say that I agree with the comparison in a general sense, but when it gets down to the specifics I think there are different forces at work. The general similarity that I see is that both Arkells and the Gaslight Anthem's most recent offerings are geared towards straight-up rock and roll. It's safe to say that there are plenty of pop/punk/hardcore/indie tags that can be put on bands, and both of these groups seem to steer away from them. When I say rock and roll, I use it in what may be my own personal definition, so allow me to elaborate. We're talking verse-chorus, repeated chord progressions, steady beat, harmonized vocals, etc. While neither band sticks hard and fast to this formula, I hope we can agree that it's at least an underlying presence. Where they differ is in where the Gaslight Anthem seem set on digging back into rock and roll's roots and creating a more throwback-y sound, Arkells are content to craft songs that are very crisp and modern feeling, while hinting at the influence of rock history.

Brace yourselves, I'm about to stop talking about the Gaslight Anthem. Ready...we can do this....okay, now!

The largest strength of Jackson Square lies in Arkells' ability to create genuine straightforward rock songs. Tracks like "Heart of the City" and "John Lennon" are upbeat, catchy songs that don't seem to have the slightest bit of a gimmicky feeling. Similar to their labelmates Attack in Black, Arkells know how to be extremely effective without making it seem like they are trying to do more than it necessary. The majority of the album feels effortlessly executed and unpretentious. The true proving point is "I'm Not the Sun," a slow-burning track that absolutely drips with authenticity. The song carries the listener through a relatively vague love narrative with nice imagery ("Don't let me be your guiding light / 'Cause that was never my part / I'm not the sun / There's no guarantee / I burn out hard like a spark") and the tasteful guitar solo in the bridge caps if off nicely. It is one of the strongest songs on the album, demonstrating the band's range of ability.

As with any album that seems to follow a general sound, Jackson Square gets a bit repetitive at times. Some of the songs seem to have similar beats and melodies but this doesn't weigh the album down too much. The only extremely noticeable similarity is in the songs "Pullin' Punches" and "Tragic Flaw," which have similar tempos and vocal patterns in the verses, making the former feel like a souped-up version of the latter. Apart from these two songs, each track forges a relatively distinct identity. When I say that Arkells follow a general sound, I really do mean general. The songs pull in many different influences, but the influences seem to be specific to each song rather than spanning the whole album. For instance, "The Choir" is a bit soulful, "Blueprints" has a jazzy brass part, and "Oh, The Boss Is Coming" sports a punchy stop-and-go feeling often felt in what is considered the more punk-like side of the "indie" tag.

While it may not be for everyone, Arkells have crafted a very solid debut album. Jackson Square feels immediately accessible and listenable, but there is plenty underneath the surface to dig for as well. It's been a bit of a grower for me, but Jackson Square has had me coming back for more as time goes on. I'm no music expert but based on the way these songs are aging on me, I'd say that Arkells have started their career on the right foot.