North Sentinel Island
Red Scare Industries
After giving my ear to the first few tracks of The Copyrights’ latest full length, North Sentinel Island, I was prepared to fault the band for being a little too true to their classic Ramones-style heritage. You see, the three-chord punk act has always kept their cards close and played a safe game, but in the process have become very predictable. Ever since their previous release, Learn The Hard Way (I jumped in around Make Sound), I couldn’t help but feel that the band was simply treading water – content to wade in the waters of familiarity as they played out their career. So when opener “Trustees Of Modern Chemistry” set the stage with simple vocal and rhythmic repetition (a loop of “how can we make this right… when we can’t even speak tonight… when we’re fucked beyond belief tonight”), I had a sinking sense of déjà vu.
But I love being proved wrong, and thankfully after a shaky start, the songs and themes ahead unraveled in The Copyrights’ favour.
For starters, The Copyrights have finally taken advantage of their status as a four-piece. Unlike many of their three-piece cousins (ie. The Ergs and The Riverdales), their set boasts the double fisted punch of guitarists Brett Hunter and Jeff Funbug, which up until now has often played out as a missed opportunity. After the fairly status-quo numbers “Crutches” and “Hard-Wired,” the group gets into gear with “20 Feet Tall.” This little number capitalizes on the band’s reputation for turning out infectious pop-punk melodies that enliven every bone in your body. The song kicks off playfully with Hunter’s sarcastic, nasally words setting the not so sympathetic scene of a friend lending an “ear” to a buddy in a downward spiral: “after a genuine act of defiance, you’re 29 and you’ve lost your license, that’s fine, you need to ride your bike more.” After each verse, the whole band chimes in with an energizing chorus, building momentum and eclipsing any sense of sameness.
From here on out the spike in musicianship holds fast, with “Expatriate Blues” throwing a curve ball half way through its jangly pop punk rhythm and stepping down to a simple acoustic number. As far as I’m concerned, this is a very welcome first.
From here the band thrives on wave upon wave of imaginative melody. Take “Bow Down” and its chunky, slamming riffs as they edge on a stop-and-go pace like a new driver irking on the breaks for the first time. Too often I find myself dozing off during the static guitars of early Teenage Bottlerocket, but not here – The Copyrights finally get that they can be true to their roots without blanket repetition. Other notable moments include “Restless Head” (with a pronounced bass line reminiscent of Blink 182), the rocked up intro of “Scars,” and “Hell Will Be Party Time’s” satisfying, album-ending gang loop.
North Sentinel Island also boasts recurring themes well out of the comfort zone of your typical basement style pop-punk. “Bow Down” opens to a documentary style commentary shedding some insight into the band’s curious album title. North Sentinel Island, as explained by the band, is a secluded island off the Bay Of Bengal with a tiny indigenous population from which they extract several themes. Most notably, the disc ends with a stock commentary (“Hell Will Be Party Time”) about the village’s obliviousness to the outside world, in the process ironically highlighting Western vanities. Obvious others surface in “Expatriate Blues,” which speaks of returning to one’s home as a foreigner, and the dream of breaking free in “Worn Out Passport.” The themes aren’t always apparent, and at times feel entirely absent, but it’s nice to know The Copyrights are up for a challenge.
North Sentinel Island still bares all the markings of The Copyrights, but now boasts the wisdom of a band quick approaching it’s tenth year. To be sure, the tight knit group remains very content to stick to its niche, doing so with confidence and comfort (albeit a little too much early on). But long time fans will also find plenty of growth, and one of the biggest steps forward in the band’s career. Those with an ear for the likes of upcoming heavyweights The Wonder Years or Junior Battles will likely wonder what all the fuss is about, but those appreciative of one of punk’s simplest subgenre’s stand to extract immense enjoyment from this cheery thirty-four minutes. An easy reminder as to why The Copyrights remain one of pop-punk’s most celebrated underground acts.