Ah, the cleansing power of noise! Within minutes of hitting "play" on Band Red (SpinART) by Kaito, my ear canals had been scoured clean of all the breathy melodicism on those Nick Drake records I've been spending so much time with lately. The band used a big ol' Brillo pad of fuzzy distortion throughout, scratching off loose residue (and cushioning the spiky edges of singer Niki Colk's piercing, yodeling yelps); at the same time, they employed a sproingy, pointilly percussive guitar line to jab at stubborn waxy buildup. I don't think I'd ever had that thing in my ear before. It only hurts a little.

After the initial maid service is through, the group can move on to the more relaxed, almost mellow "Nothing New" (hey - you can hear individual drum beats!), the Björky introspection of "Moi," or the danceable "Driving Manual Auto." But they never lose their Sonic Youthfulness, which is a good thing when it's reined in by the group's obvious affection for catchy structure. Incidentally, the English band (they'll play Emo's in Austin on June 27) sometimes goes by the geo-specific "Kaito U.K." or the typo-psychotic "KaitO," both of which distinguish them from a Japanese DJ simply called Kaito.

After Kaito scrubbed the floors of my mind's ear, I had Ikara Colt over to rearrange the furniture. Purveyors of a more ordered kind of noise, London's Colt is out to topple the Brit-band dominance of Coldplay, Travis, et al. They're less hungry to be liked than the Strokes, less intellectually aloof than Wire, and, if we're to believe their interviews, less than likely to stay together all that long. ("They shoot racehorses after five years," the band has told journalists, "and they should shoot bands too. Five years is long enough for anyone.") After the no-nonsense postpunk of the group's Chat and Business LP (Epitaph) - an EP called Basic Instructions is just hitting the streets - here's hoping they can squeeze a lot of recording time into those 60 months.

Okay, how's this for a preemptive strike, record-review style: Readers of a certain political bent should be advised that I thought the New Pornographers' "The Laws Have Changed" (from Electric Version, just out on Matador) was by far the best song on their record well before I realized - thanks to music critic Sasha Frere-Jones - that it was a jab at the Bush Coup of 2000, likening Dubya and Daddy (please God let that be all of 'em) to a line of pharaohs. SF-J highlights the following lyrics: "It was crime at the time but the laws, we changed 'em / though the hero for hire's forever the same one / Introducing for the first time, Pharaoh on the microphone." Well, the New Pornographers are Canadians - I guess they're a little French by association.

But that's not the most important part of their ancestry. The hook-hungry will be delighted to discover that the band owes more to the second generation of power-pop than to any Gallic politicos. The record has enough hooks to wipe out the entire cast of the new Finding Nemo, but at least the Pixar pesce would die happy.

Rock critics drooled themselves silly over the supergroup's 2000 debut Mass Romantic, but Electric Version is better. Why? The songs, of course; but with due respect to the boys in the band, it's also because there's more Neko: Country chanteuse Neko Case is a helluva songwriter herself (with three records on Bloodshot to prove it) but here she's a pair of vocal cords for hire, singing songs by Carl Newman and Dan Bejar as if she'd never been in a honky-tonk. (Almost.) She's not out in front a whole lot more than she was on the previous record, but she makes her time count; her sly, smart twang baits the melodic barbs, and you want to be caught again and again. (She gets the good parts on "Laws," but the fellas get the irresistible "From Blown Speakers" pretty much to themselves.) What with the band's name and their politics, the Forces of Decency may want to throw up roadblocks to your acquisition of this record - but this is contraband worth getting caught with. •

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