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The Promise Ring

If someone held a gun to my head and asked me to describe Milwaukee, Wisconsin's The Promise Ring in one word, I'd have to say "catchy." But that doesn't really do the band justice. Their hyperkinetic songs are firmly entrenched in the post-punk emo school of indie rock songcraft, but the lyrics and melodies are so heartwrenching and hummable that generic labels simply don't apply.

That said, few songs so perfectly define the oft-misused term "emo" as well as "Red & Blue Jeans," from the 1997 album Nothing Feels Good. The inscrutable yet poetic lyrics, articulate ringing guitar hooks, kinetic drumming, and sincere, almost plaintive, vocals come together for three minutes of power pop to the nth degree that will keep the kids tapping their toes as they hum along. "Best Looking Boys," from the 1998 EP Boys + Girls, is equally infectious and bouncy, the perfect song for opening a mix tape for that special someone. The songs on 1999's Very Emergency have a slightly more polished, straightforward approach, exemplified by the simple -- though not simplistic -- poppy love song, "Skips a Beat (Over You)." In 2000, Jade Tree released the four-song "Electric Pink" CD single. "Strictly Television," the featured song from that release, was recorded during 1999's Very Emergency sessions.

From their earliest singles on Jade Tree Records -- later collected on The Horse Latitudes -- The Promise Ring have flexed their musical muscle. Singer/guitarist Davey von Bohlen spent his salad days in the seminal, now-defunct Cap'n Jazz (along with Joan of Arc's Tim Kinsella), and it's clear that he's learned a thing or ten about writing a great song in his time. The Promise Ring inspires fanatical devotion in its fans: live shows are like teen angst confessionals where boys and girls swarm the stage, shouting the lyrics, straining to be as sincere and charming as Von Bohlen, and wishing that someone, somewhere would write a song as disarming and crush-worthy about them. Until someone does, there's always Milwaukee's Finest: The Promise Ring.