The Ramones blitzkrieg bopped for the last time in 1996, but the iconic punks' spirit still glows in scores of leather-jacket-clad, hook-smitten underground bands. Laramie-based quartet Teenage Bottlerocket is one of the acts admirably carrying the torch with smart songwriting, whoa-oh choruses and sour-apple-flavored blasts of bubblegum pop. On Freak Out, its fifth full-length, the band continues to mine favorite subjects (namely, romance and why it hurts so good) while giving more play to pop-culture inspirations via tongue-in-cheek homages to The Evil Dead, Top Gun and cheesy 1980s karate-film plots. The group unexpectedly squeezes some pathos into Freak Out, too, with "Mutilate Me," a song about sadomasochism that doubles as a portrait of the artist in self-loathing. That skill for shifting between moods makes Teenage Bottlerocket's work a true treat, especially when stacked against other pop-punk bands.
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