It’s Alive Records School Report Pt. 3 (#21-30)

Posted: May 5, 2015 in Reviews

Here is part 3 of my descent into It’s Alive madness….

IAR 21: The Peawees- Walking The Walk LP (January 2008)

The long-standing Italian pogo-ers The Peawees (who sit nicely alongside fellow countrymen The Manges and Latte+, the latter of which recently released a new record, reviewed on this very site) form part of a small selection of bands who like their ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll as much as they like their pop-punk. The Leftovers (and then more recently Kurt Baker’s solo stuff) come into mind, in that regard, but The Peawees are more structured and predictable than that. Their fourth LP Walking The Walk is decent and toe-tapping in parts, but the soul influence on the album means that many of the songs are just too damn slow for me and blend into one another. There is a lack of passion and energy which stops this album from being properly good, but the handclaps, guitar solos and melodies in “Bleeding For You” show what The Peawees are capable of.

Grade: C-

IAR 22: Chinese Telephones- S/T LP (November 2007)

What an underrated punk rock band Chinese Telephones really are. They were never really around for long enough to build up a proper fanbase, but for a fleeting, all-too-brief moment in the mid-noughties, Chinese Telephones could do no wrong. Every note they hit was fucking perfect. They released a couple of great splits too (including the already reviewed Dear Landlord split), but if I were to recommend a place to start with for Chinese Telephones, it would be this, their self-titled and only full-length. Like The Marked Men before them (I know, an obvious reference point, since Marked Man Jeff Burke actually did backing vocals on this LP), Chinese Telephones combined the grit and passion of pure punk rock with the hooks and melodies of pop-punk, adding in a sprinkling of garage punk for good measure. The way it was recorded was perfect to me, capturing that basement show aesthetic, while not compromising the audio quality. From re-listening to the record, one thing is clear: the ‘Telephones wore their heart on their sleeve, but they didn’t forget the hooks. This is evident on a number of their hits: “Live Like This”, “Crying in the Chapel”, “Tell Me, Tell Me”. I could go on; there is literally no filler on this thing. All possible fat has been cut away from this thing like an efficient punk rock butcher. Normally, lyrics are a big element of a band’s sound for me, but with Chinese Telephones, I don’t give a shit, such is the quality of the songs. I would sing along to gibberish with them in some Mid-western basement, wouldn’t you?

Grade: A+

IAR 23: The Copyrights- Make Sound LP

A tape clicks into the machine and then: “Day to day, night to night/ That’s how we live and we’re alright”. A fist-pumping chorus follows. Later, someone plays a harmonica. “Kids of the Black Hole” is such a great way to kick off an album; probably one of the best pop-punk openers in recent memory. For me, Make Sound is the moment when The Copyrights started to get properly good. Their shout-y, anthemic brand of pop-punk began to incorporate the catchiest of hooks and a real knack for top-tier songwriting here. All 14 hits on display here have that great combination of ‘pop’ and ‘punk’ meaning that you can head-bop along to it in your room or fist-pump along to it at a punk rock show. “Planet Earth Nineteen Ninety Four” is great commentary on punk’s mainstream breakthrough period underpinned by a driving pop-punk anthem; “Caveat Emptor” is brilliant, mid-tempo defiance with probably the chorus of the album; “Big Mistakes” is my highlight of the album though, an instant, ultra-poppy, super-fast tune with simple, but effective lyrics, including the following which I have always really liked: “If we leave here together, don’t take it as a sign/ good things happen to bad folks all of the time”. Lyrically, there were elements of the anti-money obsessed and grinding, soul-destroying day jobs discourse that would form a bigger part of their next two albums, but although this isn’t a perfect record, and though they certainly improved later songwriting-wise, The Copyrights perhaps have yet to top the relentless melodies and hooks on offer on Make Sound.

Grade: B+

IAR 24: The Veterans- S/T LP (June, 2008)

As surf-pop-punk albums go, The Veterans’ self-titled is probably the best. I know there aren’t many to count within that niche of a niche (with The Lemonaids being a recent example), but what there is tends to be patchy and repetitive, yet The Veterans avoid these pitfalls with their Italian, Ramones-y pop-punk almost perfectly complementing the surf-y influences. The Veterans are Andrea Manges’s surf project, backed by a multitude of performers from the pop-punk underground of the time (including The Popsters and The Leftovers). It is a shame that since this The Veterans only went on to release a couple of 7”s (on Killer Records), as I like this record a lot more than most of The Manges’ more recent output. Tales of Charlie chasing the sun, hula girls and a Tiki art show; a Lillingtons-esque UFO number (“Easter Island UFO”) and a cover of “Be True To Your School”. After The Veterans S/T, was it really worth any other surf-pop-punk bands even trying to make a record?

Grade: B+

IAR 25: The Dopamines- S/T LP (June, 2008)

This is probably going to be a bit biased given how much I love this band, but, fucking hell, what a debut album. The Dopamines have gone on to write more mature, complex and sophisticated material (particularly on Vices), but it is the opposite of these things which makes their self-titled album so Goddamn loveable and joyful. As has been said multiple times on the interwebz, the pop-punk here is a little Copyrights-esque, but its passion, purity and focus is far enough removed for The Dopamines to make it their own sound. Its heart spills out onto the floor, but it’s fun too, as we hear tales of drunken debauchery, cupidity, childhood loss and a plea to just be 23. It is all relatable to some extent, because who can’t relate to that deadly mix of youthful defiance, naivety and stupidity? On my personal album highlight “Fun Tags, the protagonist explains, seemingly straight-faced, “I’d rather get a DUI than give up his life”, after getting caught drunk-driving. Indeed, there is a nihilism evident throughout the album, particularly on “Dan Teet Runs A Marathon”: “I’m falling down the stairs and I don’t even care/ Not even thinking twice about my poor health care”. If you think about it, there have been very few Millenial pop-punk albums about growing up (and failing); most recent underground pop-punk has been sung by guys in their late twenties/thirties working shitty jobs to make ends meet and not getting anywhere in life, so it is great to hear a record before all that shit happens, when there is still enough youthful hope and naivety for it all to be kind of ok: “Tonight, we’re drinking, on the roof, not thinking, of how we’re going to get by”.

Grade: A+

IAR 26: The Dazes/ The Wimpys ‘Greetings From Japan’ 7” (May, 2009)

Two pop-punk bands from Japan whose split which came out in 2009 seems to have been the last thing either of them did. They always seem to have a great pop-punk scene over in Japan and this 7” is as good a representation of that as any, with these bands’ brand of super-melodic buzz pop. The Dazes win this split by a country mile for me: a 3-piece girl band who play bubblegum-y, harmony-led pop-punk, influenced in equal measures by ‘60s girl groups and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll. The Wimpys are perhaps a little more generic in their pop-punk, and the inclusion of a by-the-books cover of Ramones “She’s The One” doesn’t help matters. Fun stuff!

Grade: B-

IAR 27: Varsity Weirdos- ‘High School Teen Party’ 7” (August, 2008)

Talking about fun and pop-punk, Varsity Weirdos are back! To be honest, this 7” is kind of generic as they come pop-punk wise, but there is something on it that I have always found particularly appealing. I mean, it’s pretty standard down-stroking Ramonescore, with songs about High School teen parties and also not getting invited to said parties. Why don’t you go to parties? Because you don’t get invited! Genius. But there is something that elevates the ‘Weirdos above the Converse-wearing masses, and it’s mostly probably their vocals and natural charm. This 7” makes me want to get up, jig around for a while, handclap along and then get rejected by jocks all over again.

Grade: B+

IAR 28: Be My Doppelganger- ‘Sonic Annihilation 7” (December, 2008)

Sonic Annihilation came out a couple of years after Be My Doppelganger’s criminally underrated debut album Rock ‘n’ Roll, Genius, but this 7” was more pop-punk than rock ‘n’ roll, although there was still evidence of the latter. What I have always liked about BMD is their ability to combine a number of genres (pop-punk, rock ‘n’ roll, power-pop, ‘70s style punk) and still make it work, and ‘Sonic Annihilation’ is no different. I really, really like the first two songs on this (the upbeat, frenetic, riff-y, power-pop hit “Get In Line” and dose of pop-punk nostalgic romanticism and fan favourite “Turning Seventeen”), but the other two are just kind of there and stop the 7” from being truly great. But it’s worth getting for “Turning Seventeen” alone to be honest.

Grade: B+

IAR 29: The Copyrights- We Didn’t Come Here To Die LP (January, 2009)

This is the vinyl re-release of The Copyrights’ first album, which first came out in 2003 on Insubordination Records. We Didn’t Come Here To Die is just kind of an ok pop-punk album and mostly a lesser version of what would be on Mutiny Pop. The Copyrights had not really refined their melodies or songwriting at this stage, so the LP is mainly just raw, three-chord, shout-y pop-punk. But lets talk about the good things! There are two songs on this album that I kind of love: the infectious, bounce-y “Face For Radio”, which has fantastic lead guitars, and the sweet, adorable pop gem “Four Eyes” (“She’s got glasses on, and I don’t know if she reads with them or if she even needs them, but I do”). Also, the artwork for this LP re-release is pretty fantastic: it’s a picture disc which is available in four different versions, one for each band member, with the artwork picturing each of them having met a grizzly end. Pop-punk is dangerous.

Grade: C-

IAR 29b: The Copyrights- Chicago Smasher 7”

This is a ‘Frankenstein’ mash-up of two previous Copyrights 7”s already graded, so obviously I’m not going to blabber on about them again. It features the A-sides of ‘Nowhere Near Chicago’ and ‘Button Smasher’, which is kind of cool. I believe it was pressed just to go alongside the aforementioned We Didn’t Come Here To Die picture discs. I will give this a middle grading of what I put down for the separate 7”s.

Grade: C+

IAR 30: The Dopamines/ Till Plains split 7” (December, 2008)

The Dopamines, back so soon after their first album release, put out a 7” with their fellow Cincinnati buddies Till Plains. The two Dopa songs here act as a fairly good transition point between their first album and what would come later, building on, but not too far removed from, the former. Having said that, there are subtle differences: for instance, the structural playfulness and acoustic starting/ending of the brilliant “You Must Be Joking” and the darker, more self-critical elements of “Car Trouble” on what is otherwise a straight-forward pop-punk song (“Another town, another let-down, another shot glass upside down”). Till Plains are a different beast altogether and on the surface shouldn’t be on a split 7” with The Dopamines, with their scream-y, atmospheric post-punk, but it kind of works. I love the use of the ‘woahs’ as build-up in “Bitter Innards” (God, that is such a pop-punk thing to say) and its desperate crescendo. More bands so different from each other should release splits!

Grade: B+

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