Evoking by turns Nick Cave, the Doors, Kurt Weill, and the heyday of cheesy Farfisa organ-led bands, the Gunga Din's debut release is a curious pastiche of pop and rock sounds. But more than anything else, it's a triumph of mood over matter.

Not that the New York-based quintet's lyrics are entirely disposable. A few of the tunes are worth hearing on the strength of their oddball scenarios alone. Take the "Deadbeat Daddy," for example, in which singer Siobhan Duffy, formerly of God Is My Co-Pilot, conjures a doomed romance against a twisted rockabilly backdrop: "The way you spoke to me the other day made my belly turn upside down -- you told me that you loved me but you got a funny way of showing it." "I Won't Cry," a thoroughly subverted blues shuffle, and "Gilded Cage," a Jim Morrison-like musing, also have something to say in a peculiar way.

You don't have to strip away the words, though, to appreciate the album's moody charms or the group's garage level brand of cabaret. After all, sometimes atmosphere is a lot more potent than attitude.

Appearing Friday at the Black Cat with the Rondelles and Scared of Chaka. To hear a free Sound Bite from the Gunga Din, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8124. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)