Ted Leo/Pharmacists, Aloha

Last year, Green Day yanked its back catalog from Lookout Records due to unpaid royalties. This year, Ted Leo becomes the Bay City label's latest defector, jumping ship to sign with Touch & Go in Chicago. It's not the Green Day-level big-label leap critics have expected, though that expectation is still high since Leo's left-leaning, socially conscious songs are as close to thinking-man's punk as you're likely to find--war, the president, detainees, it's all tackled here. The only difference is that he holds your hand with sweet, poppy melodies and wit, rather than bash you over the head with messages. There's a sense of humor too, as he often covers unlikely numbers like "Dancing in the Dark" and, yes, even "Since U Been Gone." Wonder if he dedicates the Kelly Clarkson tune to Lookout.

Don't show up fashionably late--otherwise, you'll miss Chicago's Aloha, whose upcoming sophomore disc, Some Echoes, is filled with gorgeous, unclassifiable pop that should hit plenty of year-end lists for 2006.


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