AFI All Over the Place

December Underground (Dreamworks)

By Cricket Bidwell

A Fire Inside has come a long way since their early 1990s living room gigs; the band has hung on to become a huge indie-punk success and finally mainstream stars with the Dreamworks label.

The seventh album, December Underground, continues the band's tradition of changing up the sound. While remaining mostly true to their West Coast punk roots, the boys also touch on pop, cool soundscape and glam rock.

"Kill Caustic" has the screaming sound that is readily identifiable from earlier records, but "Love Like Winter," one of my favorites, heads back in time to early '80s poppiness, a la the Cure or Depeche Mode. "Miss Murder" is the single off the album and bears the aforementioned heavy glam rock influence. Interestingly, it also features the band's fan club, The Despair Faction, doing some backing vocals.

"The Missing Frame" is another one with a pop feel and the vocals come in over a sound like a Midnight Oil tune - with plenty of strength and purpose. Understanding more how to use straight vocals paired with the screaming angst of youth, AFI shows that they have matured musically. While the songs still hold onto the depression of an unsettled teen-ager, the futility of life and love, or possibly even just like, they've apparently found what works for them and their fans.

Still, while I hear a lot about the band's ability to run through musical genres without alienating fans, most of the sounds are already similar and are certainly derivative. These genres they so easily slide back and forth between are, well, pretty well established through other artists, so I'm not ready to anoint AFI as musical renaissance men.

Now, if they come out with a country or rap piece that they manage to get away with, their adeptness at the genre-hop will really be impressive.

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