If the most enduring proto-emo bands were the ones that wrote the best hooks, Smoking Popes would be right up there with the Promise Ring and the Get Up Kids. Like those groups, the Popes' penchant for melody resided solely on the shoulders of a lead singer (Josh Caterer) with a consummate croon that drowned out his peer bands' sneering. After a seven-year hiatus, the Popes are making a welcome comeback with Stay Down. The 12-song LP is being released on Kansas City's Appeal Records (formerly called Curb Appeal), home to the New Amsterdams and Blackpool Lights, as well as Patrick Park and Barcelona. While other '90s-at-noon staples such as Weezer and the Smashing Pumpkins have become cheap imitations of their former selves, the Popes just keep doing what they do: pitch-perfect pop-punk made purely for the joy of it. For these fumigating pontiffs, the choir still rejoices.
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