WHEN I STARTED WRITING about Carissa's Wierd last December, their shows were plagued by technical difficulties and they had no recorded material. The morning of this writing, a box with their long-awaited and much-delayed debut CD, Ugly but Honest: 1996-1999, finally arrived--just in the nick of time for their CD-release show at the Crocodile that very same night.

Everyone should buy this CD.

Ugly but Honest opens, as do all Carissa's Wierd's shows, with the wan, guitar-picked melody of "Heather Rhodes." Mat sings quietly, Jenn harmonizes; the tune is unwavering, unadorned. "I saw someone today who looked exactly like you/It's funny how the years go by."

And while that may not be the most earth-shattering lyric ever written, Carissa's Wierd use it to move the ground beneath your feet. It's the earnest romanticism of yearning for a time you've never known, feeling nostalgia for a place you've never been. Their songs are plain but pregnant; nothing much happens but it's all swollen, ripe, and dripping with import. Listening to Ugly but Honest is like lying in bed at night wondering how you got there. Wondering when was the last time you stopped to acknowledge your life--to simply recognize the life twitching and pulsing beneath the tangible skin that covers it. Is this life? What is this?

Carissa's Wierd evoke all these little things that make us feel not less alone, but integrated, integral, a factor in the chemical, physical, emotional, and intellectual reaction we know as existence: the ability to impart wisdom and wreak beauty on the world. Honesty in the miasma of nuance. Forgiveness. Purity, in the face of provincial and rampant irony. The conviction that intelligence is intrinsically linked to faith in something other than the advancement of the self. The examination of motives. The celebration of romanticism as it applies to everyday life: from the simple utility of a coffee stirrer to the perfect parking space to the patterns on the floor made by morning sun to the spread of a lover's hair on the pillow while sleeping, unaware of being observed, adored.

And really, if you're going to make art, why should it be about anything less than everything?

It's apparent to those who've seen any of the last six months of Carissa's Wierd shows that the band is ineffably captivating--see them once and you barely remember anything but that you loved them; see them again and invariably, the audience is twice the size. You can be drawn to your memory of them, and their artless shyness on stage practically begs you to draw them out. Even if you've never talked to Mat about how he was born in the back seat of a pickup truck in a cornfield in Iowa, or to Jenn about how she and Mat lived in Olympia for a year because they missed the highway exit for Seattle, Carissa's Wierd is the kind of band on which you can easily develop a crush, just from watching them perform.

For example, Robin, who drums on Ugly but Honest, is currently touring with Modest Mouse as the second guitarist. So, the band enlisted Ben (who released the album on his label, Brown Records, and who readers might recognize as the fella who checks your ID at the Cha Cha door) to drum for them. Ben, Mat, and Jenn have been playing together since they were teenagers in Tucson, Arizona. At a gig with the band at the Crocodile last month, in the middle of a song, Ben put down his drumsticks and bent over to get a cigarette, lit it, picked up his drumsticks, and continued playing, totally unfazed, with the cigarette dangling from his lips. You couldn't help being totally won over.

Ugly but Honest ends with a secret track. At 11:16 on track 11 begins a second version of "Heather Rhodes," a piano version with distorted vocals and punctuated samples of ringing phones and singing birds. Ben calls it the "Twin Peaks remix." It's the only notable use of production on the album, which is not to say that it's lo-fi. It's just that Carissa's Wierd, when they go for it, rock out without distortion, without a bass, and without a kick drum. It's the right move, though, because Sarah's violin parts complement the fragile filaments of Mat and Jenn's interlaced guitar lines. On "Fluorescent Lights"--a favorite in concert that sounds even better on the record--the violin riffs (can I call them riffs?) add orchestral elegance where a capacious bass would've weighed down the strings.

Even at their own CD-release show, Carissa's Wierd played only a few songs off Ugly but Honest. It's good news for fans, because it means that Carissa's Wierd still have a ton of new, unrecorded music to bestow upon us.

Carissa's Wierd plays with Mark Lanegan and 764-HERO at the Showbox Fri, June 30.