The Arizona-bred thirtysomethings in Jimmy Eat World seem like pretty earnest dudes compared to, say, Hannah Montana. But consider them alongside their bitchy-boy emo-scene peers in Fall Out! at the Disco Academy and the Jimmys start looking positively saintly. So it’s kind of a wonder that on Chase This Light—the foursome’s second full-length since unexpectedly parachuting into the Top 40 in 2001 with “The Middle”—they manage to work up some band-in-a-van voltage without giving into the New Cynicism. Virtually every one of the 11 tunes here adheres to the feel-good formula “The Middle” introduced: insistent electric-guitar chords played exclusively on the downstroke; live drums that pound with machinelike precision; lyrics about firing up systems and how perfection is a ruse; and wordless backing vocals quite possibly lifted from a B-side by La Bouche. Yet thanks to singer Jim Adkins’s bottomless well of high-flying choruses (not to mention the general shittiness of current affairs), the formula still delivers—even in “Electable (Give It Up),” where Adkins risks spoiling the optimistic vibe with a topical assault on “talking heads with automated smiles.”
Southern California’s Thrice are similarly out of step with emo’s current brat pack, but not because they’re such chipper guys. Rather, they’ve lost (along with their major-label deal) what little appetite they ever had for radio-readying their metaphysical math-metal jams. On The Alchemy Index Vols. I & II (the first half of an element-themed quadrilogy scheduled to be concluded early next year), the band burrows deeply into knotty riff science and post-Tool atmospherics. Some of the sound makes for gorgeous fury: “Burn the Fleet” has skyscraping guitars as tenderly vicious as OK Computer‘s, while “Digital Sea” floats on a lunar ocean of thick keyboard ooze. But a little concision—and a bit of Pete Wentz’s tune sense—would’ve gone a long way.