Panic returns MxPx to the indie label ranks after a six-year sojourn at A&M. It sounds like it was the usual major-label shenanigans that drove them, fed up and tired, to L.A. imprint Side One Dummy. But regardless of what went down behind the boardroom doors, all fans really need to know is that Panic is MxPx's best album in years. The trio was lost in formula on 2003's Before Everything & After, their legitimacy as punk-pop veterans neutered by tepid balladry and production meddling. And in that sense, Panic is the band's true veteran statement, because it balances lyrics about being older (and sometimes wiser) with refueled musicianship. No string section overdubs here — Panic keeps the emphasis on wrangling electric guitars and impatient, exciting rhythms (check the rowdy "Late Again"). Influentially, vocalist/bassist Mike Herrera and his mates still owe Green Day big. But there's a roughened Mike Ness sense to the vocals here, too, and the bashing attitude of Social Distortion and the Adolescents surfaces in "Young and Depressed" and "Get Me Out." (Herrera co-wrote the latter with Adolescents vet Steve Soto.) Of course, MxPx are no longer adolescents. But it's nice to hear them referencing what came before so directly, instead of detouring into the high volume ad jingle-ready pap major labels love salivating over. "Darkest Places" and "Cold Streets" are straightforward ragers with thick basslines, "woah! woah!" backing vocals, and shout-along choruses; the stronger vocal melodies of "Heard That Sound" and "Wrecking Hotel Rooms" carry them into more mature territory; and "Kicking and Screaming" features the sickest, fullest guitar tone of MxPx's entire career. Panic is as accessible as any of the baby pop-punk startups, but MxPx go further by threading the impulsiveness of before everything happened with the stronger songwriting of the days that came after.