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Hot Water Music with American Steel and Trial by Fire 

Thursday, Dec. 20; Creepy Crawl

Over the last few years, a nasty little word's been circulating among those who consider themselves punk: "emo." It's a cred-damaging curse akin to telling a bunch of Southern rockers they sound like Hootie and the Blowfish. The only reason big tough punk types cringe at it is that bands who fly that emo flag wear their little hearts on their sleeves and often sound as if they could burst into tears at any moment onstage.

Hot Water Music is not an emo outfit; in fact, the band's not easy to pigeonhole at all. By fusing the lyrical tendencies of the Get Up Kids with the guitar stylings of the Dillinger Four, HWM courts two seemingly separate crowds, and they do it well. When the band's lead singer, Chris Wollard, takes command of the mic, HWM takes on the plaintive punk feel of, say, Dashboard Confessional, without sounding as sappy. Fellow singer/guitarist Chuck Ragan has one of those Sick of It All rock voices that require snarling through every word. Those two voices, the snarl and the snivel, deserve equal time, allowing HWM to attract as many Converse-sporting shoe-gazers as moshers with spit-shined Docs. This balance also allows the Gainesville, Fla., quartet to experiment with intricate sounds beyond the range of most punk bands, a flexibility that keeps Hot Water Music free of that dreaded three-letter word.

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