Hot Rod Circuit has always relied on keyed-up performances to reel in new fans. The Connecticut quartet is anchored on stage by singer Andrew Jackson, who possesses the perfect balance of calm, understated charisma and heart-on-the-sleeve sincerity; he's the prototypical emo crooner. Lead guitarist Casey Prestwood acts as Jackson's foil, tossing himself around the stage like a lawn chair in a tornado, pausing only briefly to lean into his stack for a squall of white-hot distortion.
Though the group's live show is its greatest strength, Hot Rod Circuit's studio work has consistently impressed indie rock ears as well. The band's 1999 debut, If I Knew Now What I Knew Then, is already an emo classic, blending Mineral's sweetly sad guitar melodies and exploding swells of wailing riffs with Braid's bouncier punk pacing. The lyrics rarely rise above typical, conflicted, twentysomething heartbreak standards, but the raw production and hard-charging rock make up for them. The Circuit's follow-up, If It's Cool With You It's Cool With Me, started a transition toward a more pop-punk-informed sound, a move cemented with last year's Sorry About Tomorrow, the band's Vagrant Records debut. Sorry is laced with the kind of power chords that populate Blink-182 and Saves the Day records, but Prestwood's searing, J. Mascis-like leads and the group's sublime vocal hooks are smarter than those of any other band mining a similar vein. One listen to their music tonight will have the tunes running through your head all day tomorrow. And that's nothing to be sorry about.