Femme-fronted punks return

They didn't START the fire, it was always burning

theSTART "Initiation" (Nitro)

Sounds like: a more melodic version of the Distillers, with synthesizers.

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Because punk rock only boasts a handful of female singers, there is little space for comparison when discussing their music. Resemblances are inevitably drawn between whichever contemporary female rocker you are discussing and "old school" punkers like Siouxsie Sioux (of Siouxsie and the Banshees) and Debbie Harry. Aimee Echo, theSTART's growling lead singer, provokes comparisons to Sioux left and right. Scarcely can a review of "Initiation," the band's second album, following 2001's "Shakedown!" be seen that doesn't contain a roaring comparison between Echo's and Sioux's unique vocal styles.

But contrary to the plethora of reviews stating this, theSTART - and Echo - has a style that is distinct and wholly original, particularly in a genre that often sees bands getting stuck on repetitions of the same three chords. theSTART's brand of punk is more textured than just three chords; it layers Echo's howls with charging riffs, solid beats and synth backdrops. Echo's voice, while it occasionally reaches the point of hoarse screaming, is surprising melodic and beautiful, something drastically different from her femme-punk colleague Brodie Dorne (of the Distillers), to whom Echo is sometimes compared.

"Initiation" is a more serious record than "Shakedown!"; the band has musically matured in the past three years, and its growth is strikingly apparent here. Tracks like "Like Days," "The Conversation," and "Christian, Christian" in particular, showcase theSTART's iron grasp on what makes a compelling song. Echo's highly poetic lyrics augment the tracks, offering sentiments, like "You know I never met a man I didn't like / Until the day I let you sink your teeth into me," that seem primarily directed at the male gender.

theSTART has been labeled a punk band, and indeed their aggressive inclinations and heavy riffs agree with that. But their musical appeal is much broader than just the Warped Tour audience. Whereas the Distillers' raw songs, featuring Dorne's manish vocals, may frighten non-punk fans, theSTART offers something for hardcore and pop-minded fans alike.

"Initiation" is a technically tight album, boasting some of the year's best rock songs, that is sure to have you yelping alongside Echo as she cries, "When the world comes crashing down around us / We will RISE." Screw the gender-biased comparisons, this girl's in the same league as any male musician, and it shouldn't take a music critic to figure that out.

You can catch theSTART at the Ottobar in Baltimore this Sunday with Paris Texas, Full Minute of Mercury, Julian Gallows and Gym Class Heroes for a mere $9.

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