The 34-year-old singer, guitarist, and songwriter Ryan Higgs must be sick to death of the constant comparisons he gets to Paul Westerberg, although Higgs is happy with the association and declares without hesitation that The Replacements were a seminal influence on his year-old outfit, The High School Assembly.

THSA’s self-titled 2006 debut e.p. manages to hark to Westerberg’s tattered grace without resorting to outright mimicry. The Replacements wrote pop songs in punk drag, and that’s the vibe THSA listeners get from songs like “Sicks of You” and “Unapologetic.” Higgs also considers Billy Corgan a fountainhead of inspiration, but luckily there’s less of the former Smashing Pumpkins frontman’s gleeful scab-picking and more of Westerberg’s sweet yearning for redemption. When singing, Higgs sounds as if he’s holding out for hope even when dangling at the end of his rope. Rounded out by Jon Carney and Tim Hood on guitars, Robert Miller on keyboards, Voigt’s Taylor Craig Mills on bass, and Austin Green from The February Chorus on drums, The High School Assembly has convened with a big, sloppy heart and an angry, cynical mind. The combination is arresting.

“We call our songs ‘chain-smoking pop’,” said Higgs, himself an unrepentant tobacco puffer. “Music helps me blow off steam. I’ve still got a lot of anger toward the world as I get older, but I love the Fort Worth music scene. During the time we dropped out [of the scene], it’s gotten less competitive and more supportive. It feels like a real revival.”

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