TOM LOFGREN is best known for playing second guitar in his older brother Nils' band. But Tom may finally step out of that shadow with his new D.C. quintet, the New Keys, which he co- leads with his old grade school chum, Ronnie Newmyer (formerly of Rent's Due).

The New Keys' debut album, "Acts of Love," places punchy pop hooks in moody new wave settings, much as Joe Jackson, the Hooters and Tommy Keene have done. If the New Keys can focus their sound a bit more tightly, there's no reason they can't duplicate the Hooters' success story.

The New Keys boast no fewer than three strong songwriters full of sparkling melodies and telling lyrics.

The best song is last year's single, "Matchstick Mansions," with three separate attractive hooks. Tom Lofgren's appealing voice describes an unstable relationship with deadpan conviction, and the band's resolute push drives the song inexorably. On some songs, the band dissipates this powerful identification of lyric, melody and rhythm with needless digressions. Bassist Newmyer's title song, though, lifts off with grand pop harmonies, and drummer Chuck Sullivan's "Where I Fit In" bangs out its catchy tune very assertively.

NEW KEYS -- "Acts of Love" (Ruby); appearing Saturday at Ted Liu's.