Roto, The Low Power Hour (Resin Records): One of the most interesting times for music was back in the early '80s in Southern California, when alienation and disconnectedness were more common tropes than the notions of wild abandon and immersion-in-the-moment favored by rock music until post-punk came along with its wonderful and pretentious ideas about performance. Listen to "Strip Club" by 100 Flowers, for example — when you really engage with the song, the experience is so radically different from that of pumping your fist to "Smoke on the Water" that the two songs hardly seem to be from the same galaxy, though in the final analysis they're both just rock songs. So it is with The Low Power Hour, an album by a strange band consisting of a two guys named David Arbury and Carlton Ingram and a permanently floating drummer. (In the interest of disclosure: John Davis of Holiday Matinee, who did publicity for my band's last album, plays drums on three tracks here, and was probably the guy who got a copy of the record sent to me for review.) These songs are recognizably indie rock songs — post-Fugazi, post-Slint clean-guitar abstract-lyric meditations on nothing identifiable — but they chase an elusive nexus between involvement and the total lack thereof. One moment (the opening "Trickster") they're so passionate that heat seems to rise from them, and the next ("Glass") they're engaged in interesting but ultimately bloodless exercises in melodic and linguistic phraseology. Like lots of ambitious things, The Low Power Hour isn't without its hey-ouch moments — on "Wrecking Ball," one of the two singers mispronounces both "philanthropy" and "misanthropy," and regardless of whether he's doing it to make the words fit into his rhythm or because he doesn't know how to pronounce them, it's embarrassing to hear. There's a number called "Stasis" that's just plain dreadful, and one called "Time Trial" that isn't much better. But the album's brighter spots are moments of profoundly realized discomfort, marrying elegantly flowing rhythmic and melodic exercises to nervous meditations on self and other, like the pained questions peppering the softly terrifying "Pipeline": "Is this a friendship, or is it just a matter of time?" and "Can you hear me when I tell you that I'm talking to you?" I suspect that Roto will quickly shuffle off into history, but they've got at least one great album somewhere in them. The Low Power Hour isn't it, but a bracing step toward that possibility. — John Darnielle

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