The first song on Lava's "Before They Were Stars" is a gentle, slightly jazzy folk-rock ballad. Its title, however, is "Dead Angel," which is suitably foreboding. Singer-bassist Rebecca Icing and her two cohorts don't wear pentagrams and black eye-shadow, but Lava's combination of folkie melodies, spooky lyrics and metallic thumping sometimes sounds a lot like goth.
The Virginia trio can modulate these elements into mainstream pop-rock, as it does with the tuneful "In a Perfect World." On songs like "The Vanishing," Icing's multi-tracked harmonies and Jeffrey Asch's facile guitar make for upscale adult-rock, but the band can shift from this mode into something much heavier in the course of a single track, as it does in "Phase Creep." In the latter, Icing sings of someone who "puts the demons off to sleep," but Lava's music rouses demons as often as it lulls them.
The opening strum of "On a Roll," which begins I See Spots' new album, accurately foretells what's to come: an album of well- meaning, mild-mannered indie-pop. Those listeners who've been overexposed to such earnest jangle are unlikely to be transported, but the Arlington trio's "Cantilevered Hearts" has its charms.
Fifteen tracks (including some thin instrumentals) are more than is strictly necessary, especially since singer-guitarists Sean O'Brien and Joel Rosenquist's songs have a limited stylistic range; the album's standout tracks work only modest variations on the trio's sound. Still, the bobbing melodies and plangent guitars of such songs as "Iditirod" and the ideally titled "Floater" are beguiling, and any genial indie-pop band with the wit to name a song "Powderedsugarfinger" clearly has a sure sense of itself.
Both appearing Saturday at Galaxy Hut with the Selzers.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Lava, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8117. For a Sound Bite from I See Spots, press 8118. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)