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The All-American Rejects / American Hi-Fi 

The All-American Rejects (Doghouse/DreamWorks) / The Art of Losing (Island/Def Jam)

Looking for crisp, tuneful pop-punk action that doubles as a statement of your support for the ol' stars and bars? Look no further than the self-titled major-label debut by the All-American Rejects, a band of Oklahoma-based music nerds with heads full of alt-rock guitar fuzz, second-string Weezer choruses, and enough clumsy puppy-love poesy to supply a nation of hormone-addled ninth-graders with ammo for at least the fall quarter. For nearly eight minutes, they amuse the rest of us, too: Opener "My Paper Heart" and lead single "Swing, Swing" frost standard-issue emo-pop chord progressions with juicy acoustic guitars, gooey keyboards, and singer Tyson Ritter's cute-in-small-doses falsetto -- imagine the Get Up Kids before they went mature.

The Art of Losing, the second album by Boston's American Hi-Fi, is for stouter patriots: On "The Breakup Song," a chugging hunk of riffery with literal bells and whistles on top, frontman Stacy Jones informs a soon-to-be-ex-lover that "We're sinking/I'm thinking/How the hell did we get so stupid?" before demanding that she find a new bar to hang out in. Losing is full of agreeable sass like that, and it's no worse for the total lack of originality Jones brings to the game. (Don't forget that before buying a guitar and trying his hand at songwriting, the dude was the drummer in Letters to Cleo and Veruca Salt.) Jones softens twice, on a pair of clunky power ballads that sound exactly like that lame Filter song about taking pictures, but he's a good American at heart: Forgive him his belligerence and he'll make you proud.

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More by Mikael Wood

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