July 21, 2014
by Bryne Yancey
Pop-punk is a genre steeped in strict convention. The three (or less) chord structures, the rapid tempos, the big choruses, the transience of each song. It’s these unwritten rules that, consciously or subconsciously, largely govern the scene and its musicians. Become a fly on the wall at any average pop-punk band’s practice space during writing, and you’re likely to hear discussions amongst the members that center around stuff like whether or not this one part is too long, if another part can be shortened up, or if a sound “makes sense for us” on the whole. While these topics of conversation aren’t unique to pop-punk bands, it’s understood that there’s often much less room for experimentation within the cozy confines of a two-minute song. So when a band has the dexterity to respect why genre convention exists and also occasionally get weird, their work tends to stick out a lot more.
Such is the story so far of the Copyrights. Now into their 12th year, the Carbondale, Ill.-based veterans have a new album, Report, due out Aug. 26 release via longtime label Red Scare Industries. In fact, “longtime label Red Scare Industries” is a phrase that can only be correctly applied to this band: The Chicago-based operation has done a great job of spotting talented, underserved bands and acting as a bridge to larger pastures; groups like the Menzingers (Epitaph), Teenage Bottlerocket (first Fat Wreck Chords, now Rise), Sundowner (first Asian Man, now Fat Wreck), Masked Intruder (Fat Wreck), and The Sidekicks (TBA) have all spent time on the label. Report will be the Copyrights’ fourth full-length for Red Scare, and why that is is anyone’s guess. Their bouts of weirdness separate but don’t alienate them from their contemporaries; in fact, they’ve shown a propensity to write catchy, even accessible songs in large bunches (they released a new album each year from 2006-2008 before taking a three-year break between 2008’s Learn The Hard Way and 2011’s excellent North Sentinel Island). Their touring load has been mostly consistent since joining Red Scare, too, which continues this week as they begin a cross-country tour supporting 7 Seconds that should expose them to a lot of new listeners. It’s not that Red Scare is a label without cache or anything, especially at this point; in this era of music manufacturing and consumption, one could argue that most small independent labels have the same amount of reach regardless of their history. But what gives?
In any event, the Copyrights were finally upstreamed to Fat Wreck Chords—for a 7-inch. No Knocks, out this week, offers a sonic preview of what’s to come next month when Report drops, with the title track set to appear on that album and the other two tracks exclusive to this release.
It’s difficult to predict what an entire album will sound like based on four and a half minutes of music, but it’s a relatively safe assumption that Report will still sound like the Copyrights, while not really sounding like any of the band’s other albums. Their track record speaks for itself: 2003’s We Didn’t Come Here To Die and 2006’s Mutiny Pop were both relatively straightforward bouts of pop-punk, but once the band moved to Red Scare for 2007’s eventual fan favorite Make Sound, their sound became crisply upbeat and more prone to outside-the-box thinking—just revisit “Kids of the Black Hole” and its harmonica solo, or the anthemic, mid-tempo plod of “Caveat Emptor.” The following year, with many fans no doubt expecting the band to continue building on the groundwork laid by Make Sound, they dropped Learn The Hard Way, a quick and dirty, near-constant stream of pop-punk that intentionally sounded rough around the edges. Hell, compared to Make Sound it sounds like a collection of demos, production-wise, but the songs themselves were just as fully formed. What the album lacked in diversity it more than made up in ferocity.
Then, after three years of nearly constant activity, the Copyrights began to slow down a little bit. They released a pair of splits with the Brokedowns and the Dopamines in 2009, but no new album. (It’s worth noting that 2009 also saw the release of Dear Landlord’s Dream Homes, to which Copyrights bassist/vocalist Adam Fletcher and guitarist Brett Hunter lent their considerable talents. Half a decade and two Copyrights LPs later, fans are still pining for a follow-up to that one.) Then in 2010, nothing. 2011 started out the same way, until the band released North Sentinel Island in late August of that year. The album was moody, airy and mostly mid-tempo, and each song seemed to function as a piece to a larger puzzle. For fans who have embraced the band’s subversiveness over the years, it was, and is, an exhilarating listen that to this day, yields a new layer with every spin, which isn’t a common descriptor for a pop-punk record.
Back to No Knocks though, and the faint hints it may or may not offer at the forthcoming Report: What’s immediately noticeable about these three songs is that they’re quicker, and denser, than much of anything from North Sentinel Island. The guitars of Hunter and Jeff Funburg sound like calculated buzzsaws, at times, working in tandem to create sounds that, while not veering far from the Copyrights’ core melodic sound, seem heavier than ever. The title track leaves a huge impression through its simple, oft-repeated and immediately memorable chorus: I graduated from the school of no knocks/ Now I’m down on my knees, asking when will this stop? / I graduated from the school of no knocks/ so I’m begging you please, when will this stop? The lyrics paint a picture of someone who’s tone-deaf rich person with decidedly non rich-person problems, you know, the shit that everyone goes through that doesn’t care about your upbringing or your current tax bracket. It’s a high concept for a 90-second pop-punk song, but it works, and in a nutshell, that’s what makes the Copyrights so compelling: Even as they’re adding new spokes to the wheel, they’re not so much reinventing it as much as they’re turning it in new, unexpected directions.