The Notes in Neon LP, the latest effort from Montreal rocker Arthur Kall, features a summery guitar sound that starts off strong, but doesn’t quite make it to the finish line. Although compared to John Mayer and Jack Johnson, Kall (performing tonight at Bar St. Laurent 2 and in the New Year at Café Campus) has a while to go before he makes it to the higher levels of the pop pantheon.
The easy-going feel of the first track, “Young and Alive,” is fun and kicks itself back. You could easily play this song over a montage of a summer road trip where all is carefree and nothing can go wrong. The pace doesn’t keep up, however. The second track, “Giving Up,” runs Kall’s powerful and melodic voice through a popular Autotune filter. When his voice comes back in the overly complex orchestral bridge, the lyrics are easier to identify as weaker than his other songs.
“Grow Up” is upbeat, fun and simple and sounds like Simple Plan covering a Tom Waits song. All is not lost though, as you’ll hear on “Lost Coast”. Kall proves a gifted lyricist and guitar player on this track which not only makes a perfect single on which to build an EP, but also highlights how disappointing some of the other songs are. This song proves that Kall has a long career ahead provided he can avoid overproducing his natural talents.
One of the best songs on the album, “Sunshine Girl” is a simple pop tune that showcases Kall’s impressive voice and doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard. The lyrics are light, but not frothy; the story is told simply and for the second time on the album, you’ll really hear Kall singing and playing for the joy of playing. It rings of coasts and beach-front music parties where songs are made up on the spot and don’t need to be tweaked or changed.
Okay, I’ve said quite a bit about Kall’s vocals and there’s a good reason: the man can sing. “Driving Me Crazy” might be the perfect song to showcase the power his voice really has. The lengthy bass solos could use more complexity, but without doubt this is the song that will have audiences waving lighters and cell phones when he plays live.
“Jealousy” strips it back to Kall with his voice and guitar. Simple, powerful and evocative, this song is beautifully written, beautifully played and of course, beautifully sung. When you hear Kall compared to other singer/songwriters, it’s for tunes like this, with addictive lyrics and well-written music.
Anyone who was impressed by Kall on Canadian Idol will recognize Walking Away as the song he played that wowed the judges. The Autotune effect returns on this track, but otherwise it’s not bad. The last track, “Can’t Stop,” doesn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the album. Kall collaborates with Underground for a rock/hip hop fusion that works in and of itself, but doesn’t have anything to do with the other songs musically or lyrically. The opening line, “fucked a thousand ho’s and I want some more,” is particularly jarring if you’re not expecting it, and listening to the rest of the album, you won’t be.
Notes in Neon is an excellent effort from a very talented musician who needs to give his voice and instrument the spotlight. He definitely succeeds on several songs and only needs to run with that instead of hiding behind effects that unnecessarily gussy up his sound. Decide for yourself tonight at BSL 2, and be sure to bring your lighters.
Arthur Kall brings voice and guitar to Bar St. Laurent 2, 5550 St. Laurent, tonight. For more details, go to the Bar St. Laurent site. He’s also scheduled to appear at Café Campus, Jan. 8. Check out Kall on YouTube.