The Black Halos, The Violent Years (Sub Pop) Just like the New York Dolls? The return of the Stiv Bators sneer? The rebirth of mid-'70s punk rock? Wha?! C'mon people, who you tryin' to kid? This isn't the mean streets of New York City, 1977. This is the sunny skate parks of SoCal 1990 (sort of). Some critics seem to spend more time studying the press photo than listening to the new album. Sure, the guys in the Black Halos have those black shaggy hairdos, wear nothing but black, and sport those worn-out Converse shoes. But they aren't the new New York Dolls — they sound like a cross between The Ramones, Rancid and The Queers, and they aren't pathetically trying to be something they're not. The critics are just trying to sell them to you by suggesting they're a throwback to '70s punk. Anyway, even if the The Violent Years isn't quite as gritty, dirty and outrageous as punk was in the '70s, it's still a great record. You'll like it! (Unless you're bothered by punk that's been cleaned up with infectious melodies and anthem-led choruses.) The Vancouver, B.C. five-piece sure can write excellent, passion-fueled hooks. Like the power chord-driven "Some Things Never Fall," contagiously uplifting in a "People unite!" sort of way: "And I say yes/ We'll show them all/ Some things never fall." Made catchy by this great spiraling guitar line, "Jane Doe" feels like a danceable version of The Descendents' classic "Bikeage," mostly because of its similar theme: "'Cause you're sinkin' so low you're/ Going down/ You can't be found/ You're going down/ Sorry baby I can't save you," cries lead singer Billy Hopeless. With snotty, slurred vocals, drumming that actually changes its beats, and some pretty mean guitar solos throughout, the Black Halos aren't obnoxiously bubble-gum or pretty-boy Blink 182. But when Hopeless sneers: "'Cause the underground ain't underground no more" in "Underground" you can't help smirking to yourself, "As if they've got nothing to do with it." Although "Capt. Moody" is harder and faster than what most consider a ballad, it acts as the only low-key song on the record. Over a melody that, in a better world, would get this one on the radio, Hopeless feels sorry for himself: "These tides are the best I've ever known/ Drinkin' all the time/ Never knowing if I'm sick/ Or if I'm feelin' fine." The Violent Years doesn't offer a new sound or attitude in music, and that's just fine with me. It's an exciting, high-energy punk-rock-with-a-touch-of-pop album, one I think is worth having around when you need to cheer up, get hyper and forget your problems. — Jenny Tatone

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