Moodroom

Hung Up on Breathing (Fowl Records)

The members of D.C.-based Moodroom could host a Career Fair at the local high school -- in another life they were (and in some cases, still are) Coast Guard officers, graphic designers, social workers, film and television composers, and wanna-be pro-soccer players. But don't hate them because they're yuppies. As with fellow rich white boys the Strokes, coming from a "professional" background isn't all bad.

Maybe they don't have that school-of-hard-knocks cred, but a middle-class, honest-to-God work ethic and an innate need to succeed are awfully powerful survival tools in today's ultracompetitive music business. The band's hard work is finally starting to pay off after four years together, with a host of supporting tours and a smart, well-crafted full-length debut released recently.

So the band's name's a tad obvious (it's derived from the "mood room," or chill-out area, in a rehab center that keyboardist/social worker Jay Hardin worked at). And its psychedelic dream-pop-with-a-chick-singer-and-loud-fuzzy-guitars sound isn't just familiar, it's polished to a sheen. But Moodroom's members aren't just copycats or techno-wankers, either. First of all, they were smart enough to borrow from some of the best of their alt-rock brethren (The Pixies, Belly, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, even Veruca Salt), and they evoke the kind of surreal, half-spoken feelings and occasional surprises that are sorely missing in today's we're-so-ironic, emotion-by-numbers airwaves.

Perhaps it's the band members' diverse backgrounds that create an alluring dichotomy of sweet hooks and dark, even vengeful sentiments -- mostly about love gone very wrong ("I've got more to say/Out of mouth and out of mind/Razor sharp and cut to bleed"). While bassist Mike Wolpe was creating glossy, symphonic soundtracks for the likes of the Discovery Channel, drummer Sean Saley was pounding at ear-splitting decibels with punk giants Salvation Army, and later Government Issue. The trippy, sweet-'n'-loud result is fronted by singer (and lyricist) Stef Magro, whose off-putting voice sounds at times like both Shirley Manson and Gwen Stefani, but also has a certain Chrissie Hynde-ish attitude all her own. Magro's voice soars and laments by turn, but is always firmly in control while it deftly switches gears.

The finest example is "Morning Alarm," in which she sings, "I am waking/Something move me/Body shaking/Indecision . . . clearly seeing colors in the sky/Lean my head back . . . and sigh."

Pretty, catchy and smart, but not too heavy, this is subtle, multilayered music you can dance to or soak in the lyrics without feeling like a simpleton. Moodroom is easy enough to overlook, but you definitely shouldn't.

 
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