Eric Bachmann used to lead Archers of Loaf, a North Carolina band that often sounded like Pavement's junior auxiliary. But his new outfit, Crooked Fingers, takes a chillier, more atmospheric approach. On the band's self-titled debut, Bachmann reveals a taste for such austere balladeers as Nick Drake, although his own rough-edged vocals suggest the mellower side of ex-Pogue Shane MacGowan, notably during the relatively upbeat "New Drink for the Old Drunk."

That title is characteristic. Bachmann is a skillful writer and player, but much of his imagery is straight off the rack marked "Appalachian gloom." Such songs as "Black Black Ocean" and "Under Sad Skies" offer the usual complement of liquor and devils, emptiness and loss. Fortunately, the music significantly enhances the experience. Countering lap-steel guitar with violin and cello, Crooked Fingers craft a chamber-country style somewhere between Tindersticks, Palace and the third Big Star album. It's not a place you'd want to stay, but it's a handy place to drop in for a drink if you're in the right sort of mood.

Appearing Thursday at the Black Cat with Empire State.

To hear a free Sound Bite from Crooked Fingers, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8129. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)