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Matchbook Romance 

Voices (Epitaph)

Having seen some of their pop-punk elders wither on the Warped Tour while playing afternoon sets for yawning kids who weren't alive when the oldsters released their first albums, next-generation emo groups have decided to graduate from the genre before its shelf life expires. Good Charlotte, Sum 41, and Yellowcard hit musical puberty on their most recent releases, and while some of these eagerly mature tracks are as embarrassing as an inopportune voice-crack, they're necessary growing pains for bands who don't want to be singing about proms at age 30.

Matchbook Romance's debut, Stories and Alibis, offered little indication of the band's promise. But with chiming riffs swiped from Muse's muscle museum and ominous melodies that lend gravity to singer Andrew Jordan's starry-eyed lyrics, Voices transcends the band's whinecore origins. Matchbook Romance unleashes the full statement-record arsenal -- string section, piano punctuation, epic codas -- and it all works, perhaps because the group recruited help to play the auxiliary instruments. It took its strengths -- peppy percussion, fist-pumping choruses -- and gave them a savage twist, so the handclaps sound ghostly, the drums feel colossal, and the group vocals recall angry mobs. Voices might not end up as 2006's best album, but it will be hard to top as the year's biggest surprise.

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