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Screamo 101

A crash course on the Used, Thursday -- and the next wave of angsty rockers worth shouting about!

YO, WHAT IS SCREAMO!?

America, meet Screamo: the next generation of well-intentioned yet heavily tattooed young men vying for the hearts, minds, and PayPal accounts of your grumpy teenagers. The name is derived from the vocal-cord-shredding delivery that the lead singers favor and from emo, that contentious, ill-defined genre of confessional pop-punk. Bands that get stuck with the label range from angsty platinum chart-toppers Linkin Park and nu-metal balladeers Deftones to spacey operatic up-and-comers Coheed and Cambria. The music is usually a blisteringly macho punk assault tenderized by sharp hooks and sensitive-on-the-inside lyrics (think the quiet-quiet-LOUD dynamic of Nirvana but with choruses about dispirited teens rather than teen spirit). Screamo is also ''a very silly word,'' says Bert McCracken, the bantam shrieker from the Utah-based quartet the Used, who has been known to sing so passionately on stage that he vomits. Genre designations like emo and screamo are just ''there for record companies to sell records and for record stores to categorize them,'' he says. ''Whatever you call it, I think it's definitely a step forward for all rock music. It's very honest and real.''

SO, WHO IS SCREAMO!?

Though McCracken is quick to deny it, there may be no better example of screamo than the Used. Screamo's desperate howl tends to originate in the vanilla sameness of the suburbs, and the band's home of Orem, Utah, is about as vanilla as it gets. McCracken grew up a model Mormon, acting in school plays and winning gymnastics meets. By his late teens, though, he was a full-fledged drug addict who had been kicked out of his home. He found salvation first in hardcore punk and later by giving voice to his problems in the music he made with his best friends. ''All of our music is so close to our hearts, it really doesn't just feel like I'm screaming,'' he says, and with good reason. The Used's memorable singles succeed precisely because they counterpoint hopelessness with real moments of hope. ''I guess it's okay I puked the day away,'' McCracken shouts triumphantly on ''Buried Myself Alive,'' from the Used's self-titled, gold-selling 2002 debut. (A new record is expected in 2004.) This world-weary optimism rings true like gospel for a generation of disaffected teens who, as they tend to do at all emo and screamo concerts, sing along to every word of every song. ''It's a wonderful release for anyone who gets to open their heart up to this experience,'' McCracken says.

''[The screamo label] still makes me uncomfortable, even though some of the bands we're lumped in with are brilliant,'' says Geoff Rickly, the lead singer of Thursday, a powerful and thoughtful quintet from New Jersey. Thursday's third full-length album (but first for a major label, Island), ''War All the Time,'' may be the closest thing to a masterpiece ever to be called screamo. Complex, with a multitude of perspectives, textures, and themes, War imagines the lives and loves of 21st-century boys and girls as a militaristic symphony. Rickly is the conductor, alternately singing sweetly and savagely screaming at the top of his register. His vocal fearlessness resonates with sheltered young people like a primitive yawp. ''When I'm writing and I feel myself going down a certain path, I'm going to go all the way with it,'' he says. ''No matter what, I'm just gonna go there.''

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