Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Planes Mistaken For Stars has emo skeletons in the closet of its roaring post-punk house, but the records it's released since debuting on The Moment Of Truth: The Emo Diaries, Chapter Three in 1999 have ground those skeletons' bones into dust. The Colorado band has spent the past six years or so crafting a thoroughly menacing hybrid of punk, hardcore, and straight-up rock 'n' roll. The new Mercy (Abacus) sets the tone quickly with "One Fucked Pony," and barely relents thereafter. Vocalist-guitarist Gared O'Donnell sounds best when slightly buried in the mix; when his rasp is more prominent (as on "Pony" and "Crooked Mile"), it gets too close to Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead… A-

A Static Lullaby doesn't have any emo skeletons—they're still covered in flesh and quite alive on the new A Static Lullaby (Fearless). The group's career serves as a mini-history of second-wave screamo: growing buzz in 2001 (as the genre picked up speed), successful indie release in 2003 (when the world took notice), aborted major-label stint in 2005 (when the mainstream rejected these bands), resurrection in Indiedom in 2006 (where support remains strong). Full of the genre's signifiers—punk-metal-hardcore fusion, screamed/sung vocals, huge guitars, poppy interludes—A Static Lullaby does nothing to distinguish the band from the hordes of sound-alikes… D

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On the opposite extreme, no other band sounds like Converge, which expertly blends hardcore, punk, metal, and experimental noise into a sound that can only be described as "assaulting" (in the best way possible). The band made its name playing that mélange at hyper-speed atop Jacob Bannon's larynx-shredding vocals, but Converge showed its skill with mood on 2004's You Fail Me. The trend continues on No Heroes (Epitaph), which mixes Converge's singular mayhem ("Hellbound") with slow-burners like "Grim Heart / Black Rose," where Bannon even sings. (Over-sings, unfortunately.) As usual, the result is thoroughly engrossing… A

After 2000's amazing Astray, Samiam basically ended its decade-plus career. But resurgent interest—in Europe, of all places—forced a reunion of the Bay Area melodic-punk group (though vocalist Jason Beebout and guitarist Sergie Loobkoff are the only remaining original members). Unsurprisingly, the new Whatever's Got You Down (Hopeless) seems half-baked; the overall mix sounds unbalanced and spiky, and Beebout's dry vocals don't help. Still, Samiam has never lost the ability to write a good song, and Whatever's Got You Down has its share, particularly "Holiday Parade" and "Storm Clouds."

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