• Polysics, 'Now Is The Time!' (Tofu)

    You won't hear a more exuberant album this year than Polysics' Now Is the Time! This decade, even. The Tokyo quartet takes Devo as a stylistic jump-off (the band's red jumpsuits and opaque black sunglasses are a dead giveaway), downs six espressos, force-feeds the rhythm section steroids, turns the volume up as high as it will go, and leaps, fists flying, out of your system. A Technicolor mix of punk guitars, electro beats, trilingual, yelped vocals (Japanese, English, and a made-up language), and Saturday morning cartoon synths, Now Is the Time! sounds like nothing else. Guitarist/vocalist Hayashi plays with a ferocity that pulls from metal and punk, but he remains, miraculously, distortion-free. The resulting tone is Polysics' flagship sound: a jagged, crystalline six-string assault.

  • Various Artists, 'I Love Guitar Wolf...Very Much' (Narnack)

    There's a lot that American bands can learn from Japan's "coolest rock band," Guitar Wolf. For instance, the louder and faster you play, the better you sound; black shades and black leather jackets are, in fact, awesome; it doesn't really matter what you're singing, as long as it's sung like you effing mean it, and yelp or howl like a 1950s sex monster. Evidently, the scuzzy punkabilly anthems of Guitar Wolf (which, by the way, all sound exactly the same, but with titles like "Kawasaki Z117 50 Rock 'n Roll," it barely matters) have made an impression on the rest of the world's skuzzy noise-punk groups, and their collective over-enthusiasm is collected on I Love Guitar Wolf...Very Much, a solid, if not entirely necessary, tribute to their beloved Guitar Wolf.

  • Jimmy Eat World, 'Stay On My Side Tonight' (Interscope)

    When Jimmy Eat World released Bleed American, that sure was an exciting time for emo. Granted, an exciting time for emo isn't really all that enticing at this point; the modifier has been beaten into the ground by repeated critical usage and subsequent artistic avoidance. Remember when no band would be caught dead with the dreaded "emo" tag? Quaint! But really, Bleed American was an outstanding pop/rock album by any measure, and it deserved every accolade it accrued.

  • Staind, 'Chapter V' (Elektra)

    Nu-metal, the late-'90s most embarrassing, self-serious musical trend, isn't even a blip on the cultural radar any more. It has vanished, supplanted by -- what else? -- its own little offshoots, ones that mostly lean in a funnier, emo-ish direction. This doesn't mean that the genre's former multi-platinum titans aren't still pumping out self-important "return to form"-style releases; Staind's new Chapter V is just that, further cementing nu-metal's complete irrelevance. A towering achievement of sludgy, mid-tempo homogeneity, Chapter V exists in a time warp where dead-serious, loud n' grandiose music still reads as affecting, and where blunt, graceless lyrics that shill their author's pedestrian pop-psych worldview don't bludgeon the senses -- like they do in real life.

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