"Local Warming"

Yep Roc

Laika & the Cosmonauts were introduced to American audiences in 1994 as "Finland's #1 Surf Band." It was a funny tagline and accurate as far as it went, for this Helsinki quartet earned the admiration of no less than Dick Dale for its original surf instrumentals. But the label was a trap; no band from the land of frigid fiords would ever match California bands in the surf-music arena. Laika & the Cosmonauts would have to diversify or perish.

"Local Warming," the quartet's first studio album in seven years, reveals how well they've met that challenge. After less-than-successful experiments with industrial and dance elements, the group has forsaken the modern era to return to the '60s and '50s for inspiration. Drawing from early sci-fi soundtracks, lounge music and the pulp-baroque British producer Joe Meek, Laika & the Cosmonauts have surrounded their surf-flavored rhythm-guitar melodies with atmospheric harmonies from Matti Pitsinki's keyboards.

The results are a dozen original instrumentals, just as tuneful as before but less frenetic. Mikko Lankinen's reverb-laden guitar leads still stand out, but they are accompanied by Pitsinki's bleeps and swirls as if aboard a B-movie spaceship. Perhaps they should now be billed as "Saturn's #1 Surf Band."

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Thursday at IOTA and May 29 at the Mojo Lounge in Baltimore. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Laika & the Cosmonauts, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8125. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)