THE FAINT
Blank-Wave Arcade
(Saddle Creek)
****

Blank-Wave Arcade is no less than the most exciting record I've heard all year, and I'm not easily given to such sweeping superlatives. But the Faint have made a record that rolled my eyes back in my head the first time I heard it. They're defiantly unreconstructed new wave, as if the yearning synth pop of New Order had crashed like a comet into the wholesome fields of Nebraska and remained structurally sound, without irony or kitsch. In fact, the homage is useful (not imitative) as an audiography of suggested listening, because the Faint not only sound new wave, they sing about the same subjects from the same perspective. Sexual politics, sexual confusion, sexual rejection, and the shades of devotion between sex and love are all considered with the same intellectual weariness and unrelenting hope, as in "Bizarre Love Triangle" or "Temptation."

Bands like New Order, Squeeze, and Soft Cell traded in chronic romantic failure, which we all know is impossible to pass off on someone else. They preached rejection as the fate and fault of the rejected, but that shouldn't stop us from trying again and again. It's pleasure through pain, the very best way to nurse a broken heart. If you're inclined to reflect on rejection while still hoping, against all empirical evidence and in the face of unremitting discouragement, that someday you'll find someone who's right for you, then you'll find Blank-Wave Arcade a sublime tribute to sexual and romantic frustration, revisiting the winningly sweet melodies of new wave synth pop in a thoroughly modern and sophisticated style. ERIN FRANZMAN

SEX MOB
Solid Sender
Knitting Factory Records
***

Look past the schtick. Not that the schtick isn't good -- it is, but there's more going on here than mere high concept. The schtick is this: covers of creaky, bloated rock standards performed by a jazz quartet that combines the freewheeling glee of a New Orleans marching band with the timing and precision of a James Brown outfit.

Though the song selection plays on kitsch, toying with such chestnuts as "Fernando," "Ruby Tuesday" and "For What It's Worth," Sex Mob is not a page out of the Moog Cookbook, which, admit it, even though you gave it a week in heavy rotation, is by now coated with a fine layer of bachelor dust. Putting musicianship aside (and it's no contest; Sex Mob is comprised of some of New York's best young players), Sex Mob still wins over the Moog Cookbook. Whereas the aluminum-wearing duo ladled up rock classics as thin gruel by playing cheap, repetitive vocal lines one note at a time on tinny synthesizers, Sex Mob finds beauty hidden in each tune they cover -- looking past sonic freckles, braces, and pigtails to find the smoking devil-woman inside.

The man most responsible for this vision is bandleader Steven Bernstein, taking time off from his day job as musical director and trumpeter for John Lurie's Lounge Lizards to front Sex Mob's second recording. Bernstein plays the slide trumpet, a forgotten, nearly obsolete relic of piano-roll days that has a smoother, less tooty sound than its valved cousin. And despite the occasional public bitch-slap (Bernstein can be a bit of a bear onstage), his players are amazing. Saxophonist Briggan Krauss, a Seattle export, has a bodacious pair of lungs, and can choke the most remarkable sounds from his (usually) alto horn, ranging from the high squeal of a metal guitar to the low rumble of a passing wide-load semi. Bassist Tony Scherr, a deft and speedy soloist, is at his best on the Mingus-style "About a Girl." The low notes vibrate against each other, harmonize, and take up more space than they have a right to. Likewise, Kenny Wollesen, a joy to watch for his abandon, perma-grin, and flailing limbs, hits his drums hard and fast in a remarkable synthesis of rock and jazz drumming.

Consider "Fernando," the execrable ABBA tune whose '70s-revival hipster cred is on life support. Bernstein recasts it as a lamentation, laboring over a long introduction with a mournful trumpet part against the shimmer of a brushed high-hat and a gathering storm of timpani. For nearly three-and-a-half minutes this goes on, back and forth, before the horns burst into the chorus. It's a jubilant moment; triumphant and transporting. Odd as it is to say, "Fernando" will make you cry.

I think that's what makes Solid Sender so satisfying: the sense that our music is infinitely adaptable and renewable. Listening to Solid Sender, it's hard to be pessimistic about even the most formulaic of pop styles. Sex Mob beams tired, bullshit songs back to the past -- to the dawn of jazz in turn-of-the-century New Orleans -- and returns them as new, vibrant compositions. This cheerfulness, this authentic optimism (not penny-candy pleasure seeking or empty, auto-ironic referentiality), is what makes Sex Mob's music so powerful and sustaining and fun. Did I mention fun? And lots of fun. ADAM MAZMANIAN


IN STORES 5/9

HANSON, This Time Around (MCA) Until proven otherwise, I'm assuming one or more of the Hanson brothers is a sister.

JEFF BUCKLEY, Mystery White Boy (Columbia) The trend of 2000: dead men releasing albums.

DUSTY TRAILS, Dusty Trails (Atlantic) Ex-Breeder bassist Josephine Wiggs and ex-Luscious Jackson keyboardist Vivian Trimble.

KONISHIKI, Konishiki KMS (Koch) Hawaiian-born Samoan becomes a 600-lb. Japanese sumo-wrestling champ (three times!) and releases a rap/R&B album. We can't make this stuff up, folks.

LOOPER, The Geometrid (Sub Pop) As if there's anyone in Seattle who didn't get a promo copy.

CALEXICO, Hot Rail (Touch and Go) So good it's worth fighting for.