It’s Alive Records School Report (#41-50)

Posted: June 23, 2016 in Reviews

IAR 41: House Boat- The Delaware Octopus LP (November, 2009)

So, this is the modern pop-punk super-group of the Insubordination fest generation: Grath and Ace from The Steinways, Zack from Dear Landlord and Mikey Erg! It was enough to make fans of the sub-genre drool at the time. Members of the best pop-punks of recent years joining forces. I don’t think many were disappointed. I personally prefer their sophomore LP (The Thorns of Life), but this is excellent, too. The Delaware Octopus pretty much builds where The Steinways’ final release Gorilla Marketing left off. With Grath remaining as the primary songwriter on The Delaware Octopus, it’s the natural progression of his writing: wittier, more ascerbic and more cynical. It’s crunchier and meatier, but still as melodic,as previous Steinways material, probably adding to the influence of Dear Landlord. It’s a pretty pessimistic tale of dudes in their thirties feeling directionless and going through arrested development, but Grath still retains a sense of humour in his songwriting, notably in “Are you into metal?” Album highlight though is obviously Ace and Grath trading complaints with each other on “13 Going on 13”, who have both got “one foot out the door”. A modern pop-punk classic.

Grade: A-

IAR 42: The Varsity Weirdos- Can’t Go Home LP (March, 2010)

Oh, the Varsity Weirdos, the Ramones-worshippers with their bratty vocals and catchy melodies. They only went and grew up on this release (since their high school teen party). Well, kind of. I mean, it is still essential, fun-loving Ramonescore, but with more of an adult perspective. Basically, ‘Ramonescore after going to college’ or ‘Ramonescore after you discover The Smiths’. Some are still straight-forward pining love songs (“Look at the Stars”), but The Varsity Weirdos deal with depression and isolation on Can’t Go Home, that makes them stand out from the crowd. I mean, they open the record with “Cut My Throat”, for God’s sake, with the lines “I wanna cut my throat; I wanna do it now”. `The whole album is about disconnecting oneself from the world (literally in the case of “I Hate the Phone”). I remember this release kind of changed my whole opinion on Varsity Weirdos and kind of what was possible within the realms of Ramonescore.

Grade: A-

IAR 031910: Be My Doppelganger/ The Dopamines split 7” (March, 2010)

Not much to say here. This is a Frankenstening of The Dopamines side of their split with The Copyrights and the BMD Sonic Annihilation 7”, which was pressed for a tour the bands did together. Cool idea!

Grade: N/A

IAR 43: Be My Doppelganger- No Composure (August, 2010)

This is clearly the standout in Be My Doppelganger’s discography. The previous 7”s were a mixed bag and the previous LP (Rock ‘n’ Roll Genius) is great, but kind of a one-trick pony in terms of its rock ‘n’ roll love-in. However, No Composure was the point where Be My Doppelganger perfectly straddled that line between pop-punk and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, matching intensity and passion alongside melodies and love-sickness. There are some absolutely perfect pop-punk songs on this thing: the nostalgic hit “Turning Seventeen” (I know this song is already well-loved enough, but it is undeniably fucking great), the pogo-tastic, frenetic “Cha cha chump” or the relentless, adolescent-beginning “Backpack Full of Beers” (including the brilliant line, “Search and Destroy? Is this a decoy?”). There is passion and emotional intensity evident on this record, something normally lacking in the pop-punk/rock ‘n’ roll crossover sub-genre. Towards the end of No Composure, things get interesting when they slow down for “Peggy Sue Me”, where the pained, expressive vocals send shivers down your spine with their despair of a relationship ending: “It’s a travesty how painlessly we moved from here to there”. Things get even more gut-punch-y as a follow-on from this with the album closer “Chemical Spin”, which kicks things back up a few gears: “I’m soaked in love and it’s just not enough”. In this way, No Composure follows a roughly similar formula to The Unlovables Crush/Boyfriend/Heartbreak, beginning with the idealism of “Turning Seventeen” and ending with the crushing heartbreak of “Chemical Spin”. An artistic high for the band.

Grade: A

IAR 44: Fear of Lipstick- S/T LP (July, 2010)

I am being incredibly positive in this section, but this really was the purple patch of IAR releases. From Varsity Weirdos high point to BMD’s high-point to Fear of Lipstick’s high-point. Another excellent record, from start to finish. This, their debut, self-titled album, is where FOL really defined themselves. I don’t think they really had a particular identity up until this point, despite being a pretty decent pop-punk band. By the time of this LP, however, they had become a pop-punk/garage-punk cross-over band, mixing the best of The Briefs with the best of Green Day. They play songs which are short, sharp and spikey. The vocals are always passionate, but to the point. I dunno, I always associate this S/T LP with the Varsity Weirdos release, partly because they came out around the same and partly because they had some similar underlying themes. FOL’s sound is much grittier and fast-paced than Varsity Weirdos, but they similarly share issues of declining mental health, lost loves and trying not to fuck things up (please, operator). There are some obvious outliers on this LP, including the anti-system protest song “Dumb Dumb” and the ridiculously fun “I Wanna Be a Werewolf”. The stand-out lyric for me is on “Summertime” (see this song title on a pop-punk record and you can probably guess that it is a beach or surf pop-punk hit, instead of the ‘fuck you, winter’ it actually is): “The winter’s never been so cold; and I am feeling quite a chill, staring at the power bills; wishing I could be just as high”. I like well enough the record that followed this (2013’s Seasons), but it sounds so cold compared to their S/T LP.

Grade: A-

IAR 45: That’s Incredible ‘S/T’ 7” (March, 2010)

I don’t know much about That’s Incredible at all. As far as I know, this is the only thing they have released. They were formed by members of Toys That Kill, The Soviettes and Dick Army and have a kind of garage-y pop-punk thing going on, which is not that surprising considering the previous bands the members have been in. “Magnetic Hands” is probably the best song on the 7”, combining drive and energy with garage-pop melodies and a brilliant pop-punk-y guitar solo. “80 doing 90” could be a Toys That Kill b-side, while “It’s All Good” is pretty standard pop-punk with sugar-y female vocals. It is kind of like Sugar Stems or Riff Randells or something. Pretty forgettable stuff, on the whole.

Grade: C

IAR 46: The Creeps- ‘Follow You Home’ 7” (July, 2010)

The Creeps and It’s Alive seem pretty made for each other, but this is actually the band’s first release on the label. They offer a fun and catchy, yet passionate brand of punk rock, aligning themselves with IAR’s ethos and roster. If you don’t know The Creeps much, here’s the short story: when they formed in the late 1990s, they were basically standard Lillingtons-influenced Ramonescore and didn’t stand out much from the crowd, but by the release of classic LP Lakeside Cabin, they had honed a unique sound of their own, which took a new spin on the horror-inspired pop-punk sub-sub-genre. This was the follow-up 7” to that LP; after setting such a high bar, could they match it again? You bet they could. In fact, they topped it and they continue to top their previous release each time. This 7” offers four tracks of insanely melodic and catchy pop-punk that treads the thin line between sweet and creepy (“I can feel your heart beat, baby”). They were doing the whole stalker pop-punk thing years before Masked Intruder and to a much more sustainable level (as much as I love that first MI record). The title track is clearly the stand-out here, opening with some noodle-y chords and a low-tempo, calm manner, which allows room for the vocals to breathe and the lyrics to have maximum impact: “I’ve been watching you, but I’m sure you’ve noticed this”. The atmospheric, brooding nature of “Follow You Home” is in contrast to the intensity and more straight-forward pop-punk of “Cold Feet”. Canada’s finest creepy bunch.

Grade: A-

IAR 47: The Spinoffs- Stayin’ Alive 7” (December, 2010)

There’s an interesting story about this 7” being originally scheduled for release on Mutant Pop but never making it to the release stage before the label closed for business. It’s Alive took on the responsibility and eventually release this Spinoffs 7” years later. I don’t know hardly anything about The Spinoffs. As far as I know, they only have one other 7” released. They play just kind of a mix of garage-punk, rock ‘n’ roll and poppy-punk, but they are sonically quite far removed from traditional pop-punk (especially Mutant Pop stuff). I dunno. It is just not my cup of tea at all, really. It kind of sounds a bit like psychobilly in parts. All the melodies are kind of forced. They sound like a lame bar band I would just walk past. I don’t ‘get’ this kind of music at all. Sorry, Spinoffs.

Grade: D-

IAR 48: Chinese Telephones- Democracy LP (May, 2011)

Chinese Telephones. An underrated band, for sure and one which shone for an all-too-brief period of time, producing a mere 24 songs. The S/T LP, the ‘Telephones only album, is a release I have already reviewed on this very site and basically have already said how I loved it to death. The Democracy LP (a brilliant album title) is a collection of everything else which is not on that S/T LP: all their splits, 7”s and un-released shizzle, which is…a mixed bag. It’s not a release I find myself going back to much, partly because of the recording quality. There are clearly some gems hidden here, but they are sometimes difficult to identify because of the ridiculously lo-fi production on offer. Some of these (This Time Next Year, I think I can Breathe Now) went on to be re-recorded for the S/T LP, for good reason. “All Bets Are Off” is a great example of this. It is probably the best song on the Democracy LP (alongside the songs from the Dear Landlord split), with its mid-tempo melodies and heart-aching chorus: “Just think about the tomorrow, it’s just another day to waste away”. However, it’s clearly hampered by the poor production quality, which I suppose highlights Chinese Telephones songwriting levels: it is a great song, but it could be so much more. I am not one to talk about ‘production quality’ much and I acknowledge that it’s part of their garage-punk aesthetic on their S/T LP, but their older stuff is a step too far in this direction. However, as an aside, there is a brilliant, spiky, gritty cover of “I Don’t Wanna Get Involved With You” that totally needs to be heard.

Grade: C+

IAR 49: Stoned at Heart- Party Tracks Vol. 1 LP (December, 2010)

Stoned at Heart! Formed by members of Toys That Kill and Underground Railroad to Candyland, this is their only release, I believe. This is essentially a power-pop album churned through the punk grinder. It is grit and melody working alongside each towards a common goal. This LP is so front heavy, kicking off the ‘hit’ of the record, the wondrously melodic “Question Mark”, before delving into the teasing, slow-paced “Turn and Run Away” and “Steppin’ on Shells”, with that lead guitar. The second half of the LP is a bit more forgettable, but still decent. Such a shame that Party Tracks Vol. 1 was obviously a one-off side project, when it offers, in many ways, more than the main projects these band members have. Good stuff.

Grade: B

IAR 50: The Copyrights- Shit’s Fucked LP (May, 2013)

IAR saved release number 50 for what they consider their ‘house band’: The Copyrights. This brought the label back to where it started in 2004, with the release of that early Copyrights 7”. Shit’s Fucked was IAR’s first double album release and it is fitting that it is The Copyrights that have this honour. It compiles all of The Copyrights non-album tracks (i.e. singles, splits and compilation tracks) from 2004 to 2010. It is a total mixed bag, in regards to both style and success. It includes the tracks from their split LP from The Methadones (which I have already hyped enough on this IAR report), so bonus points already enough for that one. It also includes a bunch of other 7”s that already came out on IAR, including their splits with Dopamines and Zatopeks. There is an awesome cover of The Apers’ “Lillian” on here, which was recorded for The Apers tribute album (The Punkrock Don’t Stop), for which The Ergs! also submitted their cover of “It’s Okay to Hate Me”. They also do a really random cover of a Rolling Stones track (“Dead Flowers”), which is actually surprisingly very, very good. Also included is their latest 7” (with The Brokedowns) before this collection came out: one track of which is amongst their best (“I’d Probably Rather Die or Something), and one of which is so meh (“Get Got”). It is worth a listen and buying for big Copyrights fans to have everything in one place, but it is not what I would consider an essential buy.

Grade: B-

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