The Cripples,

the Pulses

w/Unnatural Helpers

Sat Sept 17, Fun House,

9:30 pm, $5, 21+.

Some people listen to music as an aid to relaxation; some listen to help them get wound up. Both are reasonable methods for dealing with the stresses of 21st-century life. For that latter activity, Seattle bands the Cripples and the Pulses can assist you in getting your spaz on with utmost effectiveness.

Coincidentally, the Cripples and the Pulses both last released albums in 2002. Now they're both simultaneously issuing follow-ups three years later on Dirtnap Records.

On their new sophomore album, Culture, the Cripples have bulked up their sound and streamlined their songwriting into more coherent shapes. But, thankfully, the quartet haven't relinquished the strident synth flourishes and jittery energy jags that marked their Dirty Head debut. "Hillside Strangular" displays the Cripples' knack for injecting flagellating synth emissions into what are basically structured punk and new-wave song templates. The title track exemplifies this approach, sounding like Devo covering the Sex Pistols in a pressure cooker, enhanced by raucous landslides of shredded keyboard riffage. By contrast, Culture's poppiest song, "Voodoo," recalls Hot Butter's "Popcorn" in overdrive with its effusion of bleepy, bubbly synths. While Dirty Head is rawer and more no-waved-out, Culture is still bracing, brimming with instantly whistleworthy tunes.

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On their self-titled debut and the new Gather Round and Destroy All Our Records, the Pulses strike a pleasing balance between punky spikiness and poppy tunefulness. Unfortunately, that combo is so common, it's hard to stand out from the greasy-haired hordes doing similar things in hundreds of rooms citywide. That being said, the Pulses do familiar edgy, melodic rock with more panache than most and display a tightness that bespeaks of hours of rewarding toil bent over their instruments.

The Pulses can urgently rock the skinny tie off you like Joe Jackson or the Knack, or expertly rearrange the Kinks' Village Green topiary. Just when you think you have your finger on the Pulses, they'll flaunt something like "Secrets of Life and Death," whose Elephant 6-ish psych disjointedness unexpectedly shifts into a rave-up akin to Count Five's "Psychotic Reaction." That ultimately is the Pulses' saving grace: winsome unpredictability.

segal@thestranger.com