Issue #124: North Sentinel Island by The Copyrights
July 30, 2018
Released On October 3, 2011
Released By It’s Alive Records
Some of my least favorite questions to be asked are “what kind of music do you like?” and “Who are your favorite artists?”. And it’s not because I don’t have an answer — I definitely have answers to those questions. The problem is, and I know I’m not alone in this, that I have so many answers that I don’t know where to begin and suddenly I can’t even think of a single band name or genre. I’m sure my fellow contributors have found themselves in similar situations, as has almost anyone reading this. Occasionally, I’ll be able to rattle off a few names that I’m sure my co-workers will recognize: Green Day, Weezer, Jimmy Eat World… but when you’re the type of person to consider Chumbawamba a “top ten” band, you really have to think long and hard about how intense of a music discussion you want to have with someone who may not really care all that much.
This brings me to The Copyrights. They are easily one of my favorite bands. They’re a band that I’ve been listening to for over a decade. They’re a band that, in my eyes, has delivered a surprisingly diverse discography despite sticking to the same basic Ramones-ian formula. They’re a band that I’ve only seen a handful of times, but each time they’ve outshone the headlining acts they were playing with (something I say with all due respect to Direct Hit! and The Lawrence Arms). They are a band that I almost never mention when I’m asked about my favorites. I love them with a passion, but it would be disheartening to try to explain my love for The Copyrights to someone whose idea of rock music is Imagine Dragons. But when I find myself talking to someone with a genuine interest in discussing our favorite band and albums? That’s when I know I can mention The Copyrights, and my go-to recommendation is almost always North Sentinel Island.
North Sentinel Island was released the summer after I graduated college. 2011 was a weird year for me, but everything that happened that year directly impacted my experiences with this album. I finished classes mid-year, and I spent the spring semester hopping back and forth between my parents’ basement in Brooklyn and my friends’ couch in New Paltz, NY. I was unsuccessfully applying to jobs every day, and spent most of my nights drinking with money that should have been spent other ways. I spent an entire month that summer working to get my real estate license, and during my first day on the job, I was thrown into a sink or swim situation and promptly sank. I spent another week getting my security license (with a company whose representatives used names like Ms. White and Ms. Green) and for the rest of my summer, I commuted to Queens to be a security guard at a Daffy’s. If all of this sounds incredibly boring and sad, I assure you that it was. But it’s also key to understanding what makes The Copyrights, and North Sentinel Island, so important.
Like everyone’s favorite albums, there’s a relatability factor here. Hearing “We’re self-medicating with the cheapest stuff” at a time when I was drinking tall boys of Coors Light simply because it cost a few cents less than the other options really spoke loudly, and the entire chorus of “Crutches” felt like it could have been written about me. Even where work was concerned, The Copyrights just “got” me. “The New Ground Floor” not only captured my feelings of inadequacy as a security guard with a company that didn’t trust its own employees with their real names, but continued to accurately describe my work life until about 2016. And with each passing year, the lyrics to “Expatriate Blues” (“I’m not homesick / I’m sick of home” and “I hate it with a smile, I miss it with a sneer”) hit closer and closer to… well, home.
There was a brief window at the butt end of 2011 where I had a job working for an IT recruiting company. It was easily the fanciest job I’ve ever held and I liked the paycheck, but I still felt miserable (cue the line “when you’re wishing somebody would die because you like the way you look in a tie”). I was miserable partially because I wasn’t very good at it and I had several co-workers who made it clear that they didn’t think I was very good at it, but a large part of my misery came from the fact that my office was located right by Zuccotti Park and this was at the peak of the Occupy Wall Street movement. It already felt weird to be working in such a nice, big building while there were people I knew personally camping outside in protest of predatory lending practices, but I only hated it more when I realized how many of the people I worked with had no understanding of the movement. It’s entirely possible that “Never Move Your Back Row” is about a relationship with a person who is closed off emotionally, thus preventing them from ever becoming “kings and queens,” but because of the timing of the protests I’ve always associated the song with economic inequality.
Personal attachments aside, North Sentinel Island is my go-to recommendation because I believe it’s The Copyrights’ most accessible album. Like I said, the band has a signature formula, one that’s deeply rooted in melodic punk rock- if you haven’t listened to them yet, imagine, if you would, mid-period Green Day (pre-Warning) and NOFX (circa Pump Up The Valuum/War On Errorism) with Bad Religion’s vocal harmonies. But also like I said, in spite of sticking to this same approach each time, every one of their albums has a distinct sound of its own. 2007’s Make Sound mixes in speeds often reserved for skate punk, while 2008’s Learn The Hard Way retains a very in-your-face hardcore influence. (I believe it should be noted that Copyrights drummer/songwriter Luke McNeill also fronts the band Hospital Job where he employs the same songwriting technique and if you have any take away from reading my words right now, let it be that The Believer is my second favorite thing he’s been involved with right behind North Sentinel Island.) In contrast to the aggressive Learn The Hard Way, North Sentinel Island opts for a friendly sonic approach. It isn’t exactly a polished pop album in the same way that some pop punk albums can be over-produced, but it has the same smooth feel that made Dookie such success (that bass line in “Hard-Wired” is worthy of being called Mike Dirnt-esque), and I’m positive that The Copyrights would’ve been the center of many bidding wars if they had been around a decade earlier.
Surprisingly, I can’t remember the very first time I listened to North Sentinel Island. I can only remember everything else that’s come since then. 2011 feels like it was so long ago, but at the same time, it feels like this is an album that I’ve had in rotation for even longer. In spite of my claims that I avoid mentioning The Copyrights to co-workers, I recently made a playlist to be played at work and decided to throw “Worn Out Passport” on it. At worst, two minutes will fly by and I’ll be the only one who enjoys it. But maybe, just maybe, it’ll kick start a conversation about favorite artists and albums.
Dustin Gates (@cmoncheermeup)
Relapsed Pop Culture Junkie
Pop-punk bellwethers, working hard to reinforce and fortify the genre for decades to come.
Pop-punk is a style of music with a standard emotional palette, and on North Sentinel Island, The Copyrights do very little to deviate from that template. The punk half of things comes through in the speedy tempos, the distorted guitars, and the construction of songs from simple three-and four-chord progressions. The pop side comes through in melodic vocals, anthemic choruses, and catchy guitar leads. And then there’s the third ingredient of this genre, the one that’s never spoken directly but has become more and more de rigeur as the genre has established itself over the past quarter-century: emo. Pop-punk is a form of music full of emotion, one that is very strongly linked with that Catcher In The Rye-ish coming-of-age period in a person’s life, when you’re going from a child to a full-grown adult, and dealing with all of the confusing aspects of adulthood that no high school class ever explains to you: finding love, figuring out what to do with your life, shedding all of the expectations that were placed on you as you grew up and learning to accept yourself as you are. It’s a period a lot of us go through as we go from teenager to adult, and when I say “us,” I mostly mean middle-class white kids. I’m 42, married, and solidly entrenched in the “downwardly-mobile” category, but there was a time when this stuff meant everything to me. At the dawn of the ’90s when I was processing all this stuff, I was taking a lot of solace from the first three records by Green Day (what happened to them after that? Money, I guess) and The Descendents (I eventually figured out how misogynist and homophobic they were; I’m still cringing to be honest). The fifth Copyrights album didn’t come out until 20 years later, but it’s got the same sort of emotionally-affecting melodies and memorable shout-along lyrics that will hit home for any teenager striving to hack this whole growing-up thing. “Expatriate Blues“‘ chorus of “I’m not homesick, I’m sick of home” will connect with every senioritis-sufferer staring out the window of their AP English class two months before graduation. “Worn Out Passport“‘s declaration, “I wanna die with a worn-out passport in the pocket of stolen jeans” will likewise ring true for every late-teenager looking at their parents’ mundane desk-job reality and wishing for a whole lot more. Beyond the resonance of the lyrics, all 14 of these songs are a blast of a listen, with the kind of energetic get-up-and-go that’ll have your head nodding and your right foot pressing down harder on the gas pedal. This style of music is somewhat of an endlessly renewable resource, and every new generation of kids finds new bands of this sort to connect with. Chances are, if you discover this album at the right time in your life, it’ll become a fundamental cornerstone of your record collection for the rest of your life. Even if you’re in a totally different phase of your life, though, North Sentinel Island is still a fun, catchy listen.
Drew Necci (@buzzorhowl)
Insightful Scholar Of The Underground
Trying to explain spatial organization in writing to a bunch of kids is hella difficult. I mean, how many of you are even still reading after that phrase, right? It’s a weird concept to explain, but understanding how things relate physically to one another in writing is necessary in action sequences, showing the subtleties of romance, any number of situations. In trying to get my kids to wrap their heads around it, one of the exercises we do is writing how two unrelated things in a room exist beside one another. It’s not intuitive, I tell them, so you have to hold the reader’s hand to make them understand what you’re seeing. If it’s not an intuitive fit, I say, you have to make it work. That need for connection runs throughout North Sentinel Island in the themes of loneliness and sadness that are held up against that decidedly pop punk background. Each song is a typical small bite, a couple of hard fast minutes with plenty of guitar and quick drum lines like you’d expect from this band and this genre. Lyrically, though, Adam Fletcher’s words shine out of the grit to explore loneliness from lovers, from a sense of national identity, and from friends. Though the connectivity could have been a little smoother, the album fits well into a honest kind of place in the pop punk genre.
Laura Burroughs (@_thetwors)
Jestful Musical Erudite
Time and I have never really gotten along all that well. I forget important dates — birthdays, appointments in the future — with regularity. I’m terrible at estimating how far in the past things happened. (Consider me an especially unreliable witness if your question starts with “How many years ago did you…”) As a result, my life is littered with evidence of trying to pull the past into the present. Records I bought because I didn’t want to forget how amazing a show was. T-shirts I refuse to throw away, regardless of how poorly they fit or how gross the armpits have gotten. Something tells me I’ve found kindred spirits in The Copyrights — maybe not with respect to T-shirt armpits, but in terms of wanting to drag the past kicking and screaming into the present. “Well-Fed And Warm” describes returning to bad habits you’ve supposedly outgrown — a “fuck-up revival, a deadbeat vacation.” Closing track “Hell Will Be Party Time” takes this idea even further, suggesting that the principles you cling to in life can transcend death, and that by extension, if you’re stubborn enough, you can kinda sorta stop time. Buy my favorite example is “Worn Out Passport.” Don’t be fooled by the title — the song is less about spanning distances (“I don’t really like to travel,” the narrator admits) than it is about crystallizing a magical moment early on in relationships: when you’re so excited about someone new that the possibilities seem endless, and you want to go everywhere and see everything together. “So we drank and talked for hours / About the places you wanna go / I suggested every country in the world / And I never heard a no.” It’s impossible to maintain that sense of momentum in the long run, but “Worn Out Passport” rages against the dying of that light beautifully. Take that, Father Time.
Davy Jones (@youhearthat)
Idealistic Seeker Of Neoteric Sounds
This clip of The Copyrights performing “Crutches” at VLHS Warehouse sums it all up for me. It’s a tiny venue, it’s (presumably) sweaty, and the photography puts the band right in your face. I imagine a Copyrights show would be exactly that video. North Sentinel Island plays like a show in the middle of a two month tour with no days off in between: a this-is-our-last-show-ever kind of atmosphere, every lyric is shouted (particularly by Adam Fletcher) as if an unseen crowd might drown him out at any moment, and a breakneck pace that suggests an infinite well of energy from the band. Even the album’s pacing and track order makes it feel like you’re listening to a live performance — to wit, the catchiest song here is the penultimate one, like an encore of sorts. This record is the show your best friend went to last night and can’t stop telling you about. Your friend keeps going on and on about it all week. Now it’s kinda getting on your nerves, but you’re also kinda wondering if a band could be that good. I could go on and on about the surprisingly quotable lyrics (“All these chemicals just make the time pass,” “You mistook my silent treatment as a loss for words,” “I’m not homesick, I’m sick of home”), but everything you need to know about The Copyrights’ brand of punk is in the “whoo!” right in the middle of “Hard-Wired.” It’s infectious, it’s honest, and goddammit it, it’s powerful.
Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That
Buoyant melodies, gnarled guitars, infectious singalongs, and anthemic lyrics that make their sound inviting to anyone who might listen.
If you can count on pop-punk for one thing, it’s that when it’s at its best, it always sounds the same. That’s not a bad thing, either. Leave it to all the other bands to “experiment” and to “grow” and all of the bullshit. Even in their press release, The Copyrights succumb to this apparent market pressure for evolution on their 2011 LP North Sentinel Island by saying they’ve got “a few tricks up their sleeve.” But I say if you want to participate in some band’s self-indulgent exploratory meanderings, go listen to the Radiohead catalog or an interview with Sigur Ros. Sometimes you want it straight-forward and reliably awesome. Ignore the marketing. History has shown that The Copyrights did on this generous 14 track record what they did on the five albums before it and all the ones they’ve released since. They leap off the stage backward into a sea of sweaty post-punk nerds and double-strum furiously through tight and bouncy punk riffage from the opening bars of “Trustees Of Modern Chemistry” through to the equally unrelenting “Hell Will Be Party Time.” The record never takes its foot off the gas and neither did I while I blew past all the unsuspecting drivers on a recent trip across the province. They couldn’t have known how passionately I was rawking and driving. I saw them out of the corner of my eye, glaring as I sped — they were almost certainly listening to John Prine or maybe Meghan Trainor — and that’s fine, “No Excuses!” I wasn’t having any of it, though. I saw the blank, expressionless lack of passion on their Sunday afternoon faces and I wanted them to share in the raw energy of technically spotless pop-punk so I rolled down the sunroof and turned it up. I had things to think about, dreams to run down, and places to be. “The New Ground Floor” was grinding out of my speakers while my heart rate matched the beat of Luke McNeill’s drums. I was belting out the infectious sing-along hooks at the top of my lungs and basking in the wash of harmonies and supercharged melodies. Sometimes things don’t need to be complicated. Sometimes things just need to be short, great and really, really fast. Maybe I shouldn’t have had that extra coffee at the last gas stop.
Darryl Wright (@punksteez)
Lovechild Of The Music & Technology Marriage
If only the feeling of first impressions could have lasted through the entirety of North Sentinel Island. The very, very first note I jotted down for myself when exploring the songs on this 2011 pop punk album, was noting the minor leaning chord progression at the intro hook, followed by a major leaning melody in the vocals. That first set of choices threw me for a small loop and for a genre that often predisposes itself to some compositional predictability, I thought, “Okay, maybe this will be strewn with the musically unexpected.” Well, there were some unexpected moments and occasionally they would appear after following so much pop punk protocol that deviation therefrom was like a jolt of excitement that led to an instant head turn out of shock. “Scars” acted as one such place, when, not only was I graced with the appearance of a strikingly 1980s style synth in the hook but also, to the contrary of what had been before, the lead vocals were sung with deliberation and a degree of added patience so that the lyrics were much more comprehensible. Adam Fletcher, who is the lead singer (as well as bassist) behind the record, seems to have an affinity for the style of pop punk singing that involves low register tonality with projection placed primarily in the back of the throat and at the roof of the mouth. The result? A nasal-based tone that creates less sharp consonants and thus, avoids the typical high voiced pop punk stereotype but makes vocal definition less a priority (except in cases like the aforementioned “Scars”) and immediately brings the thought of early blink-182 and Mark Hoppus to mind. There’s a rebellious, young, and often “I’m invulnerable!” spirit running through North Sentinel Island (“20 Feet Tall“) and, for those in the age brackets of 18-26, the combination of continuous drinking and short but easily shout-able refrains (“Sleep Better,” “Well-Fed And Warm“) could effortlessly become ritualistic and-or anthemic for nights out with friends or just shooting the sh-t at home with pizza and a round of Smash Brothers.
Kira Grunenberg (@shadowmelody1)
Prolific Sonic Scribe & Unifier
What I find so refreshing about North Sentinel Island is the clarity. Not only the clarity of the mixing, but the clarity of the delivery. Just by the very nature of any music in the same ball park as punk, hardcore, or just plain rock & roll, there’s going to be a fair amount of angst, anger, frustration, or whatever you want to call it. But what I always enjoyed so much more about rap is that rappers channel that energy in a much more controlled way. Rock guys often let their aggression take over the room, and the vocal booth, and all of a sudden you can’t tell what anyone is saying. The clarity suffers: not only in the audio mix, but in the message itself. But The Copyrights do an excellent job of displaying their frustrations in simple, yet skillful ways where we can totally digest everything they’re saying without compromising their energy. A perfect example is “Crutches” or “Expatriate Blues;” “I’m not homesick, I’m sick of home!” Then there’s “Sleep Better,” which is a simple one line refrain, but it’s such a clever, powerful message that it resonates easily: “you always sleep better when you don’t have any dreams.” And winner for “newest all-time favorite line in a rock song” goes to “Bow Down:” “when you’re wishing for somebody to die because you like the way you look in a tie.” If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, then you are no longer on my radar.
Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford (@jclyde757)
Steadfast Hip-Hop Historian & Creator
Vibrant. Infectious. Compelling. Enduring. Significant.
“I wanna die with a worn out passport, in the pocket of stolen jeans / On a beach somewhere I’ve never been before, full of people I’ve never seen / And I want my body filled with more alcohol than blood / Don’t take this as self-destructive because this wish is filled with love.” So sings Brett Fletcher in “Worn Out Passport” from The Copyrights’ 2011 album, North Sentinel Island, and the pithy, heartfelt lyrics, big chorus and tight pop-punk sound exemplify all that this band of die-hards does so well. I call them “die-hards” because they are committed to a sound that first reached its heyday in a previous decade. But rock & roll has always had its classicists and whether they’re any good comes down to an alchemy of talent multiplied by belief both in themselves and in their chosen genre. I’m happy to report that The Copyrights have all of that in spades along with that incalculable thing called “energy,” which I can only imagine is returned in spades by any audience they play for, as in this blistering take of “Crutches” from 2012. Bands like this, slightly out of time but filling a necessary niche, are part of rock’s lifeblood and The Copyrights shoulder that responsibility with cleverness, musicality, and an admirable wealth of humility. If you’re a fan of punk in all it’s latter-day guises, this is a band you’ll want in your life. Why not start here and now?
Jeremy Shatan (@anearful)
Prescient & Appreciative Musical Omnivore
Pop punk as a genre has always put me off. I’ve said it before and I will say it again — growing up on Long Island surrounded by thousands of hopeful hardcore and pop punk bands was a horrible experience. Having been in a moody alternative band before, we never really fit the bill with those guys, and nobody likes to be referred to as “that emo band.” So to put it frankly, the sound of an Epiphone Les Paul though a Marshall MG 100HDFX fills me with dread and I don’t care for your crunchy TS9 either. Have you ever seen those “Defend Pop Punk” sweatshirts? Usually featured on some 20-something dude who won’t forsake his basketball shorts regardless of his ever-expanding beer belly? Well, don’t let that guy put you off like he put me off for years. Despite my tone, pop punk is fully capable of defending itself and for proof, all you need is records like North Sentinel Island by The Copyrights. It may not have been full of the group’s biggest hits, but it’s still a solid album that makes a ton of insightful observations in a fun and easily digestible format. Regardless of what very well could be some Les Paul/Marshall combinations, this album is bigger and better than most other pop punk records I’ve been forced to endure. It may not have made big waves among pop punk aficionados — I’m shuddering at that phrase — but to me, the last person to ever “defend pop punk,” this album is solid, fun, and not all obnoxious. If you’re already inclined to the style, then you need to kick yourself for not listening to this record earlier. And if you’re like me and will still go out of your way to avoid pop punk, trust me when I say North Sentinel Island is a record more than deserving of a slot in your listening queue.
Erin Calvert (@erinpcalvert)
Elder Goth In The Making
This album holds such a sense of nostalgia for me. Not that I had ever heard it before, or really listened to much of this type of music when I was younger, but for whatever reason, it just reminds me of a time before. I’m sure it has to do with the pop-punk sound — it just reminds me of when I was younger, that feeling of when times were simpler. “Worn Out Passport” would have to be one of my favourites on the album. Having travelled around quite a bit in the last few years, the lyrics in that song really relate to me on a level that’s more than just me tapping my foot or playing the air guitar (because I also definitely did that when playing this album). “I want to die with a worn out passport” might sound like a morbid line, but to me, it feels like he’s saying to get out there and see as much as you can, so that you can look back on your life and have all of these amazing things to look back on. I love an album that can make me dance around my room, but also gives me some food for thought and a message to take away from it.
Chelsea Kostrey (@chelseakostrey)
Retrophile & Festival Enthusiast
Even before hitting play, I wondered just what type of connection The Copyrights were making with the actual North Sentinel Island, the isolated place in the Bay of Bengal that’s home to the Sentinelese people, who still remain unexposed to the modern world. Was it going to be a blistering indictment on the calamities caused by the modern world? Was it going to be a deep dissection of their yearning for emotional isolation? I was eager to find out so I started listening… and I promptly forgot what I was supposed to be listening for after the first few songs. Whoops. It’s not my fault though. The band’s ardent pop-punk sound overtook me and I found myself entranced by Adam Fletcher’s melodic homilies, all delivered with an assertive piety that I wish more of his popular contemporaries would copy. Almost at the halfway part of the record, my initial goal came back into view. “Bow Down” starts off with archived audio talking about the island and its people… but then the song examines submission versus affirmation and they lost me again. Luckily, the next song, “Worn Out Passport,” seemed to circle back around into the subject matter of the record’s title, wishing for a life lived travelling. Was he wishing to uncover what was still left to be found in this world? Ingratiate himself into a world that no outsider is allowed into? I didn’t find any answers as I kept listening, but I did continue to find musical solace in their songs. Nothing on this record is groundbreaking by any means, but it is just good. Damn good in fact. Pop-punk the way it should be almost. And that’s when it hit me. By 2011, the year this record was released, the genre had started to change. Older favorites were shifting into either an adult contemporary format or a sound tailor-made for arenas. New upstarts were beginning to play around with the formula, bolstering the melodies with some synthesizers or looking to sharpen the sound with metal tones. The Copyrights didn’t care for it — as the sound modernized, they were more than happy to double down on the traditions they knew to make the best way forward for themselves. The rest of the people in their sonic landscapes could sprawl and evolve over the musical world however they wanted – but this little piece of punk-pop real estate was more than enough for The Copyrights to live out their musical lives. Keep on this train of thought and you’ll eventually begin to see The Copyrights becoming the Sentinelese within pop-punk, a group that was lapped by the modern world, yet still found a way to survive and, more importantly, flourish. While I don’t think they would ward off outsiders with arrows and spears quite like the Sentinelese have, the band’s mastery of the pop-punk sound does make any modern influences feel extremely unwelcome in their isolated, yet abundant sound. What’s not unwelcome is us… the music fans. Because no matter how isolated they can make their sound compared to what’s around, the dynamic joy of their music will always draw in new fans, ones who will find an inviting environment, uncharted by the ears of the 2010s but ready for discovery.
Doug Nunnally (@musicdoug)
Garrulous Aural Braggart
Wrath Of The Math by Jeru The Damaja
Chosen By Kellen “J. Clyde” Ford