Archive for February, 2015

Interview: John Allen

Posted: February 16, 2015 in Small Talk

John Allen is a German folk singer, who just released his second album Sophomore at the end of 2014. Read Hard already reviewed that here if you missed it: https://keeptrackofthetime.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/john-allen-sophomore-gunner-records/

He has recently shared the stage with Frank Turner, Lucero and Chuck Ragan, too, among others.

I had a Skype chat with John about the new album, his tour with Frank Turner in 2013  and his worst New Year’s Eve memory.

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DB: Your new album Sophomore just came out at the end of last year. How do you think it turned out and how does it differ from your first album (Sounds of Soul and Sin)?

JA: Well, you know, I think it turned out pretty well, but I think I am supposed to say that. I really hate my album (laughs).

DB: Yeah, maybe that could be an alternative approach for the promo, to say you hate the album!

JA: Don’t buy it, it’s shit…no, seriously, I really do think that it turned out great. We had only five days in the studio to record it, and I recorded it with a couple of great musicians, but I had never met them before. So, we only met in the studio on the Monday morning and got started straight away, and we got finished by the Friday afternoon. Because I couldn’t afford any more studio time, so, you know, to make an album in such a short space of time with musicians you have never spoken to before…I think, considering this, it turned out remarkably well. I mean, it’s edgy; I wanted it to be edgy and raw and stuff. I’m pretty happy with it. And it’s also the first time I did a full band recording, ever! The first album, that came out two years ago, was basically only me on acoustic guitar and vocals, or on piano and vocals…so much, much more reduced in the sound, much darker in a way. Huge difference between the two!

DB: I noticed that you are going on tour next month with a full band, right?

JA: Absolutely, yeah. It’s the first time. I’m pretty excited about that.

DB: Is that going to be an ongoing thing now, or is it just for this tour?

JA: Well, the ways it is planned is that it’s only for this tour, but, you know, if it’s a success, I would love it to be a regular thing, because I believe that it’s much more interesting for the people, right? If you are on stage for two hours with just an acoustic guitar, you either have to be an extremely good guitar player, which I am not, or at some point, it’s going to get maybe boring for the people. But with a band, there are much more dynamics in it and you can go into many more styles, and I find that challenging for myself, because, you know, I cannot do what I want on stage now without fucking it up for the band; at the same time, I can give my songs a new sound, a new angle to them. And I kind of like that.
DB: So, how has the album been received so far?

JA: It got absolutely great reviews. From the UK, I’ve had a couple of reviews and they were both stunning. You know, it’s beyond belief, really. I get emails saying check out these reviews that just came out on the album, and then I’m reading it and I cannot even believe that they are talking about my music. I’m serious. It’s absolutely stunning. In Germany, it’s also been pretty good. I’ve had a review in the Rolling Stone magazine, which is completely unbelievable! Tom Petty on the cover and my review inside. It’s mind-blowing, really. Germany hasn’t been quite so ecstatic about the album, as England has, but still, pretty, pretty good. I would say an average of around 7 out of 10. I’m very happy with that.

DB: So, would you say that your main fanbase is still in Germany?

JA: Oh, absolutely, yeah. I’ve never really toured the UK. I played a couple of shows in England in Autumn 2013. I played London, Manchester; I played two shows in Lancaster. And I’ve toured Germany up and downwards, basically everywhere. I toured Germany with Frank Turner, so that obviously exposed many, many people to my music, so I’m doing pretty ok in Germany. I’m hitting the UK in October this year for two weeks, so lets see how that goes!

DB: Do you know who you are touring with yet?

JA: I’m touring with a friend of mine, Joe McCorriston. He’s from Lancaster, or that sort of area. We got to know each other about two years and have kept in touch. We’ve always wanted to do something together. So, he’s coming over to do his first shows in Germany in May. And we’re going to do the same tour in England in October.
DB: So, how was it that you got into playing folk music? And when was it that you started?

JA: I have basically played music all my life. I received piano lessons, classical piano lessons, when I was 6, and, at some point, I realised that you cannot carry a piano to a campfire, so I needed something else. So, I bought a guitar when I was 18, 19 maybe, and I just basically started strumming chords and learning it, and ever since then, I have wanted to express my own ideas and my own values. So I started writing songs when I was 20-23, and if you learn to play the acoustic guitar, folk music is basically the way into it. So, I listened to Bob Dylan a lot, and to old blues kind of stuff. Then, friends of mine introduced me to The Gaslight Anthem, to a couple of acoustic videos of The Gaslight Anthem, and through them, I got into punk rock. I like to think that my music is somewhere in between the two extremes; between classic folk music and some of these former punk rock stars having gone acoustic.

DB: You toured with Frank Turner in 2013. How did you get involved with him?

JA: He played a show in Hamburg in May 2013, and I had tickets to the show because I’m a huge fan. A friend of mine said, “we have been queuing here for so long because we want to get to the front row; why don’t you bring your guitar and play for the queue while we are waiting?” To shorten the time. So, I did. I brought my guitar and I started to play to a couple of friends, and it started to rain and we are playing under this tin roof and it is very loud. So, I can only play songs where I strum hard. And at one point, I am running out of my own songs and I start covering and I play “Mr. Jones” by the Counting Crows. What I did not know was that that is one of Frank’s favourite songs, apparently. Usually, when I’m singing I have my eyes closed. So, I’m playing and my eyes are closed, and I open them and I stare at like 15 mobile phone cameras. Wow, how did that happen? What’s going on here? And I turn my head to the right and there’s Frank there with his harmonica and he just started to play along to me singing. And that was brilliant. He’s one of my heroes and all of a sudden, he’s standing next to me playing. So, after the show when he came out to sign autographs, to sell some merch, I walked up to him just to say thank you, because it did mean the world to me, and he said “cool, yeah, no worries, we should do something together, send me an email!” So, I emailed him the next day and after a couple of weeks, his booking office, or touring manager got back to me saying that Frank wants you on the tour and here are dates, just confirm what you can play. So, there I was, on the bill with Frank and Lucero.

DB: With Lucero, too! That’s a great story, how you met.

JA: Yeah, it’s almost surreal to me these days, but because I have told the story so often that it’s almost unreal, that I’m not the guy from the story. I’ve developed almost a third person perspective on the story.

DB: Also, regarding Frank Turner…he contributed some vocals to a song on your album Sophomore, called “Home; did he write the song with you or did he just contribute the vocals? How did it work?

JA: I wrote the song, and when he came back to tour Germany early last year, we met for a drink and I downright asked him, “would you care to sing on my album?” He was like “yeah, sure, whatever you want; I cannot make it to the studio, but record a rough cut and send it over; send me the lyrics and I will sing whatever you want me to sing!” We recorded acoustic guitar and vocals and drums and then sent it over to Frank, and he got back to us within a day or two and came up with those backing vocals.

DB: Great. It really works on the song, too.

JA: Yeah, people tell me that the song does have a Frank Turner kinda vibe in it. I don’t know if that is true or not, but I know it does work on the song.

DB: Do you have any plans to record anything else with him, or is it just a one-off?

JA: I think it is just a one-off to be fair, because he has done so much for me and I don’t want to ring his doorbell every time I need something. I think it’s a great thing, because, as I said he is one of my heroes and this is one thing that no-one can ever take away from me, the fact that he is on one of my albums, but if people get used to this, it is gonna be problematic in developing your own musical identity. Because, if in two or three years, if I am still ‘the guy who played with Frank Turner’, or ‘the guy whom Frank recorded a song with’, then I have made a couple of mistakes and a couple of bad choices. I feel a certain amount of distance is necessary over time in order for people to recognise you as an artist in your own right. ‘The guy who is being pulled into the limelight by Frank Turner’, I don’t wanna be that one…I’m super grateful for everything he has done, and I’ve told him a million times how I feel, but at one point, enough is just enough, right?

DB: So, are your lyrics written from a personal point of view?

JA: Yeah, I guess. Most of them, in a way. It’s hard to say. They are not all autobiographical; it’s not always 100% me, but there’s always a big part of me somewhere in the lyrics. I like to make up stories in a way; I like to make up stories that I can relate to and that people can relate to, but it’s not always 100% me. I don’t have to be in love to write a love song; I don’t have to be lovesick to write a very, very sad song, but whenever I write something there is always a part of me that goes into the song.

DB: I wanted to ask you about one particular lyric actually. There is a song (“Rock ‘n’ roll Romeos”), with ‘stuck between stations’ as a line in the lyrics; was it influenced by the Hold Steady song of the same name?

JA: Absolutely, yeah! I love “Stuck Between Stations”, by The Hold Steady. It’s probably my favourite song of theirs. I think the whole album, Boys and Girls in America, is a masterpiece, an absolute masterpiece. I love the song “Stuck Between Stations” and I always kinda wanted to use that image; I mean, you can call it stealing if you want, but I think it’s such a great image. Yeah, I used it for “Rock ‘n’ roll Romeos”, because it resembled what I was feeling at the time when I was writing it: this not knowing where you belong. It’s like, you wanna go somewhere, but you are always kinda stuck between, because you never get to the point where you feel home, where you feel satisfied, and I love that. And I couldn’t find a better way to put it into a couple of words, so I just used theirs.

DB: It is the perfect phrasing, isn’t it?

JA: Absolutely. Actually congratulations, because you’re the very first one to spot this.

DB: Ha. I just spotted it the other day, and though, I wonder if…?

JA: Absolutely, yeah. I have to be honest about that, because, Bob Dylan once said “songwriters are like sponges”; you take up everything you know and hear, and sometimes you absorb it into your own music. I feel like that is what I am doing….you just take it and turn it into part of what is yours.

http://www.mentionedreviews.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/JAS.png

DB: And the last quesion is inspired by your song “New year’s Eve”, the first song on your new record. What is your worst New Year’s eve memory, considering the anti- New Years sentiment of the song?

JA: (laughs) Ok…usually, when I play it live, I say that my last three New Year’s Eves are in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the three worst New Year’s Eves of all time. So…ok, here’s my favourite, worst New Year’s Eve memory ever. So, it was many years ago, 5/6 years ago, I don’t know. So, I just split up from my girlfriend at the time, or she split up from me, I don’t remember, a couple of days prior to New year’s Eve. And I was invited to a mate’s party, but the party turned out to be not his party, but his girlfriend’s party and it was an Abba/ Mamma Mia themed party. And everyone had dressed up in kinda crappy Abba costumes and everyone was trying to sing to some Abba songs. And I wasn’t in the mood at all. I was glad my mate was there, but when I arrived, he was already dead drunk, basically spending his New Year’s Eve over the toilet bowl. And I was sitting on the sofa, missing my girlfriend at the time, and got drunk on my own, basically (laughs). At some point, I think about 9pm, I tried to ring her up, ringing her mobile around 21 times, but she didn’t answer. And then at 11.30pm, I was fed up and got a taxi and went to bed. I woke up the next morning with a huge, huge hangover! And hangovers are cool if you have a good party the night before, but if the party was shit…not totally worth it. I think that is one of the fondest, worst New Year’s Eves I can remember….if we are talking about lyrics that are personal, that song (“New Year’s Eve”) is 100% true!

Check John out here: http://john-allen.de/

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Back to an old classic from 1978: Buzzcocks’ wonderful Love Bites. Another early pop punk milestone with some post punk mixed in. It’s the band’s sophomore album. Their first was Another Music in a Different Kitchen and had great songs such as “I Don’t Mind” and “Autonomy”. It’s way stranger than Love Bites and way less melodic, and except for the songs mentioned above doesn’t really have the catchy hits the Buzzcocks are known for. Before their debut, the band released a few 7-inch singles, like “Spiral Scratch”, which is known for being one of the first independent punk rock singles and was their only release with Howard Devoto (who later formed the band Magazine). As well as a lot of other classics like “What do I get?”, the explicit “Orgasm addict” and “Oh shit”, these songs became bonus tracks on the special editions of Another Music in a Different Kitchen. They also appear on the band’s compilation Singles Going Steady, which might be the best title for a single’s collection there is. I think, unfortunately, the collection is what they are mostly famous for out in the world, in spite of it not being anywhere near as great as Love bites. Before their first split in 1980, they released their third album A Different Kind of Tension, which might be their most ambitious album (isn’t it always what happens before a band breaks up?), they re-formed in the 90’s and have released a lot of more or less good albums since then. Still nothing touches Love Bites!

The album was released on September 22, 1878. The cover is white with a blue circle in the middle with a picture of the band; the word “love” is in a new red circle within the blue one. The title Love Bites is ambiguous because “love bites” could mean that love hurts but in British English the word “love bite” means what Americans call a “hickey”(in Norway we call it (directly translated) a “suck mark”). This bittersweet ambiguity is perfect for an album that to me has a duality, the album mostly has two themes: unrequited love and philosophizing, philosophizing that often borders on the paranormal. A song could easily be a simple song about unrequited love, but also include various intellectually complex concepts. Similar to what Dr. Frank and Matt Skiba have done later. The music also reflects this, the album like its predecessor has some weird shit, and post-punk bordering on the psychedelic, much like Devoto’s Magazine, but the album also has the sugary Beatle-esque perfect pop music that is Pete Shelley’s trademark. Together the mix can’t be beaten, and makes it different from any other pop punk album about not being loved and any other weird post-punk album about strange concepts.

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1. “Real World”: The albums starts with a guitar playing a palm muted intro, and the bass and drums come in like a battleship and then we get to hear Shelley’s beautiful vocals. The lyrics reflect on the contrast between dreams and reality. Shelley claims that in the real world things happen as they do in his dreams. The song describes an infatuation with someone you don’t even know the name of or know at all, but it simply starts with an infatuation with the real world itself, but, unlike his other infatuations, this one is mutual. There’s something weirdly ironic about this as the real world seems to be full of unrequited love and failed crushes, where as in dreams they can be different. There also appears to be some daydreaming about the crush going on in the song, thus making the “real world” different from the dream, because in the real world they don’t even know each other, but that’s where he wants them to meet and he ends with asking the crush their name. The second verse is perfect: “I’m in love with somebody/ I wish somebody loved me too/ You may wonder how this concerns you/ well, perhaps that somebody is you”. I also like the line “we both win when we play the same game”. Shelley’s naïve vocals in the chorus really make the song what it is, and fits the song perfectly. It was one of the first Buzzcocks songs I noticed in 2006 when I checked out their compilation “finest”, but in 2009 I really started loving this song, as well as the entire album. Prior to 2006 I was mostly into three songs, “Orgasm Addict”, “I Believe” and the next song on the track list: “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With)?”

2. “Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t Have Fallen in Love With)?”: The band’s biggest hit by far, and one of the highest charting punk rock songs in music history. It charted nr 12 in the UK in 1978, and the only punk songs I can think of that charted higher are “God Save the Queen”(as well as some of their other hits), “London Calling” “Basket Case” and “All the Small Things”. The song has a pretty simple concept and probably the most common theme in popular music there is, as the title says, falling in love with someone you should not have fallen in love with. This could be either because they are bad for you or because they don’t love you back and feeling that way you do can only bring you down. The music is also very light and poppy and when I first heard it at 14 I thought it was way too poppy for my taste, but now I love it. One thing I noticed studying the lyrics was that in the third verse he sings “you disturb my natural emotions” but in the first sings “Spurn” instead of “disturb”, which is a word I had never heard before and it apparently means “attack” or kick”. When I do my monthly DJ gig on the concept night “Britain calling” in Bergen, the song is a staple and it’s always a song that makes people dance. The song has gotten a huge popularity in Norway due to being on the soundtrack to the hit movie “Mannen som elsket Yngve”(The Man who Loved Yngve) based on the book by Tore Renberg of the same name. The song puts sounds to the moment in the movie where the heterosexual teenage protagonist Jarle Klepp gets a crush on another guy named Yngve. The song is very appropriate for this scene as a common interpretation of the song is that the song has very many homosexual references. Something that isn’t unlikely as Shelley is openly bisexual and later had a hit with the BBC banned homoerotic song “Homosapien”. The homosexual references that are usually mentioned are “We can’t be together much longer, unless we realize that we’re all the same”, “the same” meaning the same sex. In the other verses, he sings that if he starts a commotion, he might lose the person in question. Not only could this refer to the devastating risk telling someone about how you feel about them, but this risk gets even bigger if there’s something taboo about it. In 1978, though more accepted than in for example the 50’s, homosexuality was still more frowned upon than it is today, we can see this in knowing almost 10 years later Shelley’s “Homosapien” would still get banned from the BBC, so making a commotion about this would be quite a risk. Even if it is maybe the simplest idea on the album, there’s so much to look into in the lyrics. The rhyming scheme is very interesting to mention one thing, in the verses the rhyming scheme goes A/B/B/A/B: “You spurn my natural emotions(A)/You make me feel like dirt(A)/and I’m hurt(B)/ and if I start a commotion/(A) I only end up losing you and that’s worse(B). It’s a widely covered song: Fine young cannibals had a huge hit with the song, but also bands like Thursday and Anti flag have made versions of it.

3. “Operator’s Manual”: When I’m writing this I’ve spent the last few days trying to take apart and put together a fucking IKEA bed. I hardly know what a screwdriver is, and definitely not which screwdriver to use when I’ll screw up my bed. It’s just as difficult every time! And what would I do if I didn’t have a manual? “Operator’s Manual” emphasizes the necessity of having a manual. This time the protagonist has an operator’s manual to get instructions on how to deal with emotions and love for another person. The first verse refers to blowing a fuse, making an ambiguous meaning between emotions blowing a fuse and an actual fuse indicator: this time it’s blue, meaning both the color of the indicator and “blue” as a feeling as a result of love. The second verse is maybe the best part “Operator’s manual of page sixty three/tells me what to do when you do these things to me”. I’m not sure if such a manual exists, but I think it’d be a piece of literature that a lot of people would be interested in owning. Still the manual is not enough, the protagonist also wishes to have a mechanic. The lyrics are maybe the most simplistic on the album. Melodically the song is maybe the most Beatle-esque on the album, and to me it sounds like it could fit right in with McCartney’s songs on Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s lonely hearts club band.

4. “Nostalgia”: “Nostalgia” is by far my favorite Buzzcocks track and also one of my favorite lyrics ever written! It’s just a total mindfuck and I notice new aspects of it every time I read it. There’s something sort of science fiction about the song, as well as philosophical and paradoxical. The main hook in this song is about the protagonist bathing in and surfing on a wave of nostalgia for an age yet to come. The word Nostalgia is defined as “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one’slife, to one’s home or homeland, or to one’s family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time” by dictionary.com, which makes being nostalgic about the future a strange idea. What might even stranger is being curious about the past as one is curious about the future. In the first verse Shelley sings “I look up to the sky/and wonder what it’ll be like in days gone by”, a lot of the song is just switching “time-idioms” between the future and the past. The second verse is quite interesting, the second line is “like they say yesterday never comes”: here the idiom “tomorrow never comes” is switched from future to past. This verse also offers one kind of an explanation to this curious case “Sometimes there’s a song in my brain/and I feel like my heart knows the refrain” to me this introduces the concept of déjà vu, feeling like you’ve experienced something before when you indeed haven’t. That being said, I don’t think it’s as simple as that (in fact it might be even simpler). I think the song shows that you don’t need to have a TARDIS to travel between the future, the present and the past and be stuck in between. The protagonist is claiming to be “stuck in the middle of time” and that their past and future has presently disarranged. I doubt it’s necessarily meant to be literally, but it’s still a mindboggling idea. This is all caused by the first line: “I bet that you love me like I love you/but I should know that gambling just don’t pay”, this is also the same pun that Shelley used in “I don’t mind”: “I used to think that you didn’t care/but gambling never got me anywhere”. The uncertainty of the crush’s mutual affection towards the protagonist and the protagonist’s unwillingness to find out is what’s causing this uncertainty about the future and the past in the protagonist. It’s continuing the theme of “I don’t mind” and most other Buzzcocks songs and taking it to a weird existentialist level. What a song! The female fronted band Penetration from County Durham also covered the song, and they do a great job as well!

5. “Just lust”: Continuing in the theme of dysfunctional love, “Just lust” is about someone being into someone who is just using them, either as a possession or purely sexually. The opening line is “There’s a bed in your eyes, but there’s nothing there to trust” the last verse’s opening line is “Your driven to possess, it hurts it’s so unjust”, these two lines describes the two types of lust that is referred to in the song. The melody is quite catchy even if the music seems to be somewhat complex! The rhyming scheme in the song mostly goes ABAB, in the Middle eights (I think those are Middle eights) it’s also ABAAB, a good example of that is: “I was slow to catch on/and that just makes it worse/If passion is a fashion/then emotion is a curse”. The last line of the song also reflects the album title’s negative side “love has a reputation it can only lose”. The lyrics were credited to someone named Alan Dial, the band’s ex-manager who’s real name is Richard Boon. He’s also credited to have written the lyrics for “Whatever Happened to?” on “Orgasm Addict”. “Just Lust” was also the B-side to “Ever Fallen in Love”.

6. “Sixteen Again”: In “Nostalgia”, an uncertain infatuation causes the protagonist to lose track of time (if only Keep Track of the Time existed in 1978!!!!) and look back on the future. While in “Sixteen again” the protagonist looks back on the past instead to the carefree adolescent years of being sixteen and doing nothing and counting to ten when angry. There’s something bittersweet about both the melody and the lyrics and even the way Shelley sings it. The lyrics are quite reminiscent of Dr. Frank of the Mr. T experience’s lyrics with its clever wordplay and self-deprication. Some golden moments from the song are “If it makes you happy, it will make you weep” and “If you can’t think once, don’t think twice” and the more morbid “Look at me here I am for your eyes/Mirrored proof of love’s suicide”. Also like “Nostalgia” it plays with the contrast of the future and the past: “Things don’t seem the same the past is so plain/this future is our future, this time’s not a game”. Another cool line is “That’s all that’s on the menu and life’s a la carte” and apparently “a la carte” is a menu you make yourself at the restaurant, I learn so much weird shit from writing these articles!

7. “Walking Distance”: The album’s first instrumental. And it sounds like a regular song so I always expect the vocals to come in, but they never do, and that’s always a disappointment. The guitar leads are very catchy. Bassist Steven Garvey wrote it.

8. “Love is Lies”
: Maybe the song that separates itself the most from the rest as it is acoustic (at least the rhythm guitar) and sung by Steve Diggle rather than Pete Shelley. The song’s lyrics are maybe even simpler than “Operator’s manual” and simply echoes the infamous negative side of the album title. The song is about someone going out to find a girl and start an affair with, but in the chorus comes to the tragic conclusion that love is just lies. The chorus goes “Love is lies, love is eyes, love is everything that’s nice/ love is not as cold as ice, but that’s what love means to me”. I think this is Diggle’s best song in the band.

9. “Nothing Left”:
For some reason this song to me always feels like another instrumental and when the singing comes in it always catches me off guard. This song is about a break up, the protagonist has been dumped and has nothing left at all. The song uses repetition as a dominant force, I guess that’s a device to emphasize that there really, in the protagonist’s mind, is nothing left at all after this relationship is over. A bummer, for sure.

10. “ESP”: Is it so that every pop punk album needs to have a mystical parapsychological song? If so “ESP” is the one on Love bites! ESP stands for Extrasensory Perception. It means having a consciousness beyond the regular senses such as sight and hearing, it is also known as the sixth sense. The opening line of the song is “Do you believe in ESP? I do and I’m trying to get through to you”. In this song, someone is trying to get in touch with their crush through paranormal magnetic brainwaves. Shit like this freaks me out. It’s the last song with lyrics on the album, maybe that’s the last thing a person will try to get through the one they’re in love with. When everything from operator’s manuals, being sixteen again and nostalgia is tried and failed, maybe the sixth sense is all that’s left, which is better than there being nothing left! The song is very post punk, the guitar lead is very strange and it almost sounds like it’s impossible to play, the little pull off in the repeated riff almost sounds like it’s from a science fiction movie. Shelley’s vocals aren’t as wistful and innocent as they have been in other songs, this time they are more like John Lydon’s in Public image limited and the song is almost freaky, almost like you’re in a dream, but what is a dream and what is the real world anymore? Ask yourself that!

11. “Late for the Train”: I think “ESP” could’ve been a song on Another Music in a Different Kitchen. I feel like “Late for the Train” is the sequel to the last song on it: “Moving away from the pulse beat”. They’re both really weird songs, with electronic beats and no vocals and a lot of the music is just noise. I feel like these songs are what lead to bands like Kraftwerk and even noise rock bands. The song goes on for almost 6 minutes, that to me seems sort of unnecessary. It’s a strange way to end the album. I think “Moving Away from the Pulse Beat” is even longer as it stops in the middle and starts again.

Bonus tracks: “Love You More”: When I bought the album, I got the deluxe edition with demos and live versions. On the regular re-issue, there are four bonus tracks, which are from the two singles released around the time of the album (“Ever Fallen in Love” is the only single from the album). “Love You More” is maybe Shelley’s simplest and cutesiest song, both lyrically and melodically. The song reminds me of earlier Beatles and I think it could’ve been a song on Please, Please Me or With the Beatles. The “I Love You” part is clearly a homage to the fab four. The B-side is the Slade inspired “Noise Annoys”.

“Promises”:
I bought the “Promises/Lipstick” 7 inch in Manchester in 2008 along with “Orgasm Addict/Whatever Happened to?” They actually took me long to find, as I didn’t know there was a bin just for Manchester bands, it was mostly Oasis and the Smiths, but I found those Buzzcocks singles! “Promises” is along with “Teenage Kicks” and Rudi’s “Big Time” among the first songs that could undoubtedly be labeled as “Pop punk”. The song also echoes the message of the album, even if not on it, that love is just broken promises, claiming “love is strictly made for fools”. The original version of the song was called “Children” and is on the demo side of the deluxe edition, but the band wrote new lyrics for it. “Lipstick” is a strange break up song: the lyrics are very minimalistic and the chorus is just a repetition of the lyrics of the verse. The first verse is about lipstick sticking on the protagonist’s face after being kissed, and is a cute verse, the next is devastation where most likely the same person has been left in the morning only with a card that says the relationship is over. The song has a nice melodic guitar solo, which might be my favorite part of the song.
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I still think it’s a shame that Buzzcocks are remembered for their singles collection rather than this album. I’ve learned so much more about it writing about it and it’s made writing this article fun as hell. The Buzzcocks rule! The next pop punk pick is Beatnik Termites’ Bubblecore.

If you would like a copy of ‘Keep Track of the Time 2014 Collection’, get in touch (keeptrackofthetime@gmail.com): I still have a few copies available to send out! If not, you can take your chances and order an LP from Brassneck Records, where they are being given away with all LP orders, while stocks last. Just look at the beautiful future toilet paper:

ktott cover pic

It’s Alive Records began releasing a few 7”s by then unknown DIY punk bands in the summer of 2004 in California, and have gone on, in my opinion, to be the cream of the crop when we are talking about underground punk rock record labels. In recent years, they have released records (7”s, splits, full lengths) by some of the best current bands on the DIY punk circuit, both locally and internationally, including The Creeps, Zatopeks, Houseboat, The Dopamines, Gateway District and The Copyrights, to name but a few. They are set to put out a Skinny Genes full length this year, which is pretty exciting. Anyway, the point of all this waffling is that I am going to grade and review (like a school report, because I’m cool like that) every current release by It’s Alive, starting in September 2004 with that Copyrights 7”, straight through to the latest release, which is, at the time of writing, a Plow United 7”. As already stated, I am pretty into most of what IAR releases, so expect a lot of As and Bs. In order for this to be slightly digestible, I will be doing this in updates of ten releases. So, here we go…

IAR 01: The Copyrights- “Button Smasher” 7” (Sep, 2004)

I have never been too keen on early Copyrights stuff; I am of the opinion that they only recently started to be truly awesome on the last couple of releases. They certainly weren’t as consistent in those days. However, this is the better one of those early Copyrights 7”s, not least for having dance-y pop-punk anthem and title track “Button Smasher” on there (which later went on to appear on Mutiny Pop). The other three songs on the 7” are 2 minute blasts of shout-y pop, which is fine, if a little predictable and unmemorable. The lyrics on “Our Turn” are pretty cool though, it has to be said: “No more sniffing glue/ no lobotomy/ no more wearing leather jackets at a beach party”. And it goes without saying that the cover art drawn by Adam Alive for this 7” is just ace!

Grade: B-

IAR 02: Teenage Bottlerocket/ Prototipes Split 7” (March 2005)

Remember when Teenage Bottlerocket were exciting? Their side of this early split 7” is evidence of when that was the case, showcasing two of their strongest songs in the kick to the balls of “Radio” and the catchy, sing-a-long of “Bloodbath at Burger King”. It seemed to take the best parts of Lookout pop-punk and make them meatier; songs like these channelled the spirit of The Ramones for a new, disenchanted ‘00s generation who were fed up of doing menial, shitty-paid customer service jobs, and still couldn’t get the girl. Both of these went on to appear on Total, which TBR have probably never topped as a full-length. Spanish pop-punkers Prototipes side of the split is just ok: pretty standard Ramonescore, mixed with a little hint of ‘70s radio rock on “I Wanna Grow Old With You” (not a cover).

Grade: B+

IAR 03: The Copyrights- “Nowhere Near Chicago” 7” (September 2005)

The second 7” The Copyrights released on IAR was titled “Nowhere Near Chicago” to highlight how far their home-town of Carbondale was from Chicago. The idea of the 7” is definitely cool- covering a song by a former band of each band member in The Copyrights style- but I find the execution a little off. The results are three average, ho-hum shout-y pop-punk sounds, which aren’t that memorable, and one which I think is pretty good: “Meathead”. It has some wonderful pop harmonies, which lodge themselves into your brain and wouldn’t sound out of place on Make Sound, perhaps alongside “Kids of the Black Hole”. S’alright.

Grade: C

IAR 04: Kitty and the Manges- “Joey’s Song” 7” (April 2006)

For this 7”, Italian punk rock legends The Manges teamed up with New York-based Kitty Kowalski, who was on lead vocals for the three songs here. As far as I know, this is the only official release with Kitty on vocals for The Manges. The 7” is very rock ‘n’ roll, with tributes to Joey Ramone (“Joey’s Song) and Elvis (“Elvis Has Left the Building”). The former song, with Kitty’s vocal style, and The Manges’ pop-punk meets rock ‘n’ roll style, is 70s in style and reminds me of The Runaways a fair bit. I also really like duets in general (at least when done well), so I think the Elvis song is great when Andrea Mange and Kitty come together for vocal duties. The third song is a cover and kind of sucks (“The Goonies R Good Enough”), but oh well, it is not enough to ruin a perfectly good punk rock 7” for me!

Grade: B+

IAR 05: The Varsity Weirdos- “Fly Me Up to the Moon” 7” (June 2006)

“Fly Me Up to the Moon” was The Varisty Weirdos’ first release, and although they may have got sharper and catchier later on, this is a pretty damn good debut 7”. All the elements that make The Varsity Weirdos good were put in place straight away: the vocal harmonies, the backups, the handclaps, the ‘90s influences and those vocals. This is a pretty straightforward pop-punk 7” that could well have come out on Mutant Pop, but the Weirdos’ charm comes through even at this early stage to differentiate them from the rest of the pack. Plus, there is one song on here “Never Liked You Anyway”, which is more mid-tempo and subtle (along with a wonderful guitar lead), which lays the ground for the more interesting material they would later put out.

Grade: B+

IAR 06: The Popsters- “The Scene” 7” (April 2006)

I kind of forgot that The Popsters existed; I haven’t heard of them doing anything in a good five years. They were an Italian Ramonescore pop-punk band in the style of The Manges, although not as good. This 7” is a little bit all over the place, but at least that is more interesting than a straight-up Ramones-y bore-a-thon. The first one “The Scene” is a pretty unremarkable 2 minute pop-punk burst of energy, but their cover of “American Girl” is intriguing, if not technically brilliant. I don’t think you can really make a good pop-punk cover of that song, but I’m glad they had a go. I really like the closing track “You Said”, however: it’s pretty unexpected. It’s five minutes long, heavier and chuggier; the guitars are meatier than you would expect from a Ramonescore band, reminding me a little of something Epitaph might have put out in the ‘90s.

Grade: C+

IAR 07: Zatopeks- “Smile or Move” 7” (June 2006)

Zatopeks’ second 7” following their split with The 20 Belows, and their first release on IAR (their second coming up soon!). This whole 7” is just great! I mean, it includes two songs off Ain’t Nobody Left But Us, in “Turn to Gold Blues” (which is one of my favourite songs by them) and “Another Night on the Divide”, so I already knew that I was going to not hate it. The other two songs on this 7” are very much representative of that Zatopoks era: poppy hooks galore, rock ‘n’ roll aesthetics and killer back-up vocals. My particular favourite on this 7” is the melodic, mid-tempo “I Dream I’m Home”, partly because of the great lyrics, partly because of the great female back-up vocals. “Even Zatopeks Cry” is not half bad either: it’s got a cool guitar solo with handclaps, so I’m in.

Grade: A-

IAR 08: The Apers/Sonic Dolls Split 7” (June 2006)

Two European pop-punk bands, who have been going since the mid-90s, although I’m not sure Sonic Dolls are actually still active as a band. I totally don’t listen to The Apers enough these days, but when I hear two pop-punk songs as perfect as “I Can’t Believe I Ever Let You Go” and “Fine, Alright and Ok”. The latter in particular must be in the top 5 Apers songs, especially with that guitar lead. Classic Apers on both of these: sweet guitar action, tales of heartbreak and snarly, Weasel-like vocals. German band Sonic Dolls do euro pop-punk in a similar manner on the surface, but in a much more ordinary manner. They sound like a mix between The Manges and Varsity Weirdos, with Ramones-y downstrokes and back-up harmonies to boot. They are fine, alright and ok.

Grade: B+

IAR 09: The Copyrights/ Zatopeks- “Handclaps and Bottlecaps” 7” (October 2006)

One of my favourite It’s Alive releases: an acoustic reworking of a previously released punk track and a new acoustic track each by Zatopeks and The Copyrights, although Zatopeks have since gone onto release “Death and the Hobo ‘plugged in’ on Damn Fool Music. I probably just about prefer the acoustic version of that song: it feels rawer and a little bit haunting, too. Stripping everything back, Zatopeks and The Copyrights excel; with only acoustic guitars, handclaps and whistles, the two bands prove their talent. The Copyrights’ group vocals in particular work with the ‘campfire’ element of this punk rock. “Forever or Today” takes all the best parts of pop-punk and strips them back to their raw elements.

Grade: A

IAR 10: The Badamps- Two Face 7” (October 2006)

‘90s-style, woah-oh pop-punk is kind of exhausting after a while, at least when it’s not done by the cream of the crop. Canadian band The Badamps are pretty good at what they do; and what they do is revive a bit of The Ramones, a bit of The Queers and a whole heap of ‘70s power-pop. The guitar chords used are definitely more from the power-pop side, with the song-writing being more The Queers. This is a fun record, but don’t expect more than it is. I believe this was one of only two releases by The Badamps, so perhaps, given more time, they would have developed their own identity further, rather than retreading the steps of the mid-‘90s.

Grade: C

Check out all the releases here: http://itsaliverecords.com/

DB

Eddy’s Comics: SOURSOP

Posted: February 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

A new comic strip from our resident artist Eddy. This one is entitled SOURSOP. Enjoy.

soursop