There’s something to be said for a band that sticks around. If you’re lucky enough to follow one through all, or even a solid majority, of their tenure as a band, it can be really interesting to see how a group changes, evolves, or otherwise proceeds year after year. The Arrivals are a band that I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing shift and grow while continuing to be one of Chicago’s finest active bands. The first time I saw The Arrivals, I was fifteen. I’m knocking on twenty-six’s door, so I feel like I’ve amassed enough evidence to make these kinds of claims. I also feel comfortable presenting this chronological review of all of the band’s full length records, of which there are surprisingly few. For more Arrivals, you’ll have to find their EPs and compilation tracks. They’re out there and some of them are among my favorite Arrivals songs. But, let’s get to the albums.
Goodbye New World (Thick Records, 2000): The Arrivals first full length and clearly the result of several years’ worth of songwriting. Let me step back a second. The Arrivals are eclectic songwriters. They were then; they are now. That said, their records get significantly more cohesive with time. I love this record, but there’s a lot going on. There are straight-forward anthemic punk ragers like Bottle Song or Tornado, a goofy surf jam in Surf Riot, and more emotional, slightly longer songs like Chinese New Year. This is definitely a band finding their footing in terms of a more defined sound, but every song on this record rules. Even in their infancy, they’ve got hooks to compete with Naked Raygun, aggression to spare, and some well developed lyrical content. Isaac’s vocals on this record are some of my favorite in Chicago punk history and that’s saying a lot.
Exsenator Orange (Thick Records, 2003): I’m pretty sure the first time I saw The Arrivals was at their record release show for this album at the Fireside Bowl. It was a rowdy, sweaty night and The Arrivals played a perfect set. I picked up Goodbye New World and my friend bought this album. At first, it seems a bit less aggressive than its predecessor. Dave Merriman, their second guitarist/vocalist who only did lead vocals on one Goodbye New World track, now had a handful of songs to offer up. This dynamic works incredibly well for the album and, contrary to logic, makes the record feel much more cohesive than Goodbye New World. The perfect one-two combo of -1 into Hell Can Wait became a live staple. Shouting Fire sees the band get much weirder, with a Pixies meets sad Chicago winter feel. And there are still the punk anthems that teenage me required, like Analee and, especially live, Design. Combined with the minimal, simple artwork to tie it together, this album feels more like a piece, than a collection, when compared to the first.
Marvels of Industry (Recess Records, 2007): It was the end of an era when Big Dave left The Arrivals. I remember seeing the band play a lot of these songs with Dave still in the band. I think I knew most of the words to Blood Hits the Ground before it was ever recorded. But, he and the band parted ways before the recording of this album. His replacement, the illustrious Paddy of Dillinger 4 fame, though, was a suitable one. Whereas Dave’s bass lines build more of a rock solid backbone for the songs, Paddy’s tend to move around a bit more, creating more texture within the songs.
This newfound complexity isn’t only found in the bass, but the rest of the record as well. The album kicks off with the incredible Sorry For Saying I’m Sorry, a rollicking, urgent punk song that has a ton of layered melodies that refuse to leave your head. But this record has a lot more to offer. The nearly five minute long Company of Salt builds and retreats, flowing dynamically and engagingly in such a way that you don’t even notice how much time has passed. Dangerous sounds like it could almost be in a James Bond movie, while Why You Talk All Shitty? is a searing sub-minute blast of cultural commentary. Despite the diversity on the record, it’s sequenced perfectly and flows well as a whole album. The songs work better in the context of the record than they do without. That’s not a slam on the songs – they’re all hits. Instead, it’s a testament to what a well constructed album Marvels of Industry truly is. The lyrics are also the band’s strongest yet, often riding the thin line between the personal and political deftly and without pretense. The final song, The Joke, is a finely tuned rocker lambasting the American Dream, while celebrating life at the same time. An ideal closer for a great record.
Volatile Molotov (Recess Records, 2010): The fourth and, as of now, most recent Arrivals record is – you guessed it – excellent. Volatile Molotov is a reference to a Clash song and it couldn’t have come at a better time. This album is to the Arrivals as London Calling is to the Clash and it sees the band incorporating a ton of different elements to create a diverse, interesting, and overall different album that Marvels of Industry hinted at. The overt aggression is slightly toned down in this one, but the anger is certainly not. The album’s opening track, Two Years, paints a fairly bleak picture and this is the case with many of the record’s lyrics. Still, in true Arrivals fashion, there is hope that shines through the cracks, especially in the closer, Simple Pleasures in America. There are low-key, moody tracks, like The Power Won’t Be Staying on For Long with its melancholy guitar leads and foreboding lyrical content, backed up directly against more straight forward punk influenced tracks like Frontline. You can hear tinges of classic rock, psyche rock, punk, blues, even some ska undertones if you listen closely. Still, this record manages to work perfectly as a whole and is a solid piece of work both in terms of some real stand out songs and as a truly well constructed full length. I can’t wait to see what this band does next. Now go find their 7”s.