It’s Alive Records’ School Report (releases 01-10)

Posted: February 1, 2015 in Reviews

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

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