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THE START Initiation ****

The reason The Start aren’t as big as Ashlee Simpson and sliced cheese right now is probably because the lead singer is over 25. Kidding. No, not really. The Start have put out a solid album, an amazing EP and this second fantastic album full of poisoned-sugar hooks and plush walls of dense guitar noise that rivals anything going on nationally, but are constantly shafted. Hmm. Every track on Initiation is a mind-churning white-water-rafting ride of surging, splashy guitar, aggressive drumming and punchy bass attack—a dark ’80s whirlpool of heady addiction. (Nitro)

MOONEY SUZUKI Alive & Amplified ***

Sophomore albums are tricky, and the Mooney Suzuki haven’t quite pulled it off. Eschewing mid-century garage rock for a more ’60s psychedelic honky-tonk as evidenced in the Flaming Sideburns-like title track and Jimi Hendrix-toned “Legal High,” Mooney Suzuki aren’t necessarily moving in a bad direction; their songwriting just isn’t as strong this time around. Plus, everything is testosterone-laden in a campy—not cool—way; e.g., “Naked Lady,” “Shake That Bush Again,” “Loose N’ Juicy.” (Columbia)

BUTCH WALKER Letters ***

Uncomplicated slow-pop gliders aren’t so bad when, lyrically, they’re like what pages ripped from Evan Dando’s blasé-yet-vulnerably-heartfelt journal might sound like and, musically, like a combo of Wilco gentleness, Lemonheads songwriting and Our Lady Peace pulse. Letters comes off like fields of damp four-leaf clovers and double rainbows after heavy summer showers. Nothing too memorable, but the nostalgic “So At Last” definitely gets under one’s skin. (Epic)

KITTIE Until the End **

O Kittie, how far thou hast fallen. Their new Headbanger’s Ball video is a metal travesty, Morgan’s vocals stripped of death-metal growls and fully popped-out for choruses, all four members looking recently primped by Drew Barrymore’s personal stylist then outfitted on Ambush Makeover by Hot Topic execs. The album follows suit. Whether this piece of crapola really is “Career Suicide” is debatable; BonneBell consumers will probably make it go platinum. (Artemis)

SALIVA Survival of the Sickest *

Y’know, Saliva had a couple tracks on their last album that weren’t unforgivably bad, but Survival of the Sickest can claim no such redemption. Saliva’s less depressing when they’re pumping out Drowning Pool/Kid Rock anthems of recycled rebellion (“I’m a roller, I’m a rider, No. 1 motherf—kin’ survivor,” “Survival of the Sickest”) than when they’re straining to pinch-off loafs of ear-destroying Staind ballads (“Open Eyes,” “No Regrets (Vol. 2)”). (Island)

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Rebecca Vernon

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