Following the success of their 2008 debut, Jackson Square, which had Arkells touring with the likes of Pearl Jam and Them Crooked Vultures, the Ontario indie rockers garnered acclaim for their energetic live shows. Michigan Left, the band’s second full-length album, is an attempt to capture that stage show on record.
For the most part it works. The anthemic choruses are perfect for echoing off the arena walls, but at the same time they are hindered by an overproduced pop sheen, a clear mistake of placing too much emphasis on making the songs grandiose. Choruses that are more refined and subtle would have served Arkells better. Still, Michigan Left is an ambitious and hook-filled release that is not lacking in passion. The band specializes in stomping grooves, intricate guitar melodies, and Max Kerman’s distinctive impassioned vocals.
The bouncing rhythm and the slow-burning, multi-textured instrumentation of “Where You Goin” is reminiscent of Spoon. “Kiss Cam,” the album’s finest track, gets it just right – a thumping beat, a sing-along chorus that is big yet restrained, and the best guitar riffing on the album. It is moments like that, as well when ripping through the angry rock of “Whistleblower” – that Arkells show their potential. Despite choruses that quickly become repetitive, the band displays a talent for layered sonic landscapes and vicious rhythms. With a more raw and eclectic approach to the songs’ choruses, Arkells would transcend from a solid rock band into territory inhabited by the greats.