FRENCH TOAST

"In a Cave"

Dischord

THE NEIN

"Wrath of Circuits"

Sonic Unyon

Jerry Busher and James Canty, aka French Toast, have lengthy employment records with various D.C. post-hardcore bands, generally supporting forceful, even histrionic frontmen. Now that they're running their own operation, the two musicians don't see the need for such a person. "In a Cave," the duo's smart and satisfying full-length debut, features more vocals than the previous EP, and that's an agreeable development. But Canty and Busher take turns singing, and neither often pushes his voice to the top of the mix. Vocals are just another musical element in these tightly constructed, carefully balanced compositions.

With "Float Away" and "Lion's Den," French Toast does a credible impression of a punk band: "I'm not calling to tell you the / Things you want to hear," announces Canty in the latter, as if he were really bawling someone out. Yet such titles as "Pattern" and "Off Center" suggest that these musicians conceive their songs more as structures than as statements, and "New Dub" and "Nobody Knows" are as chilly as either of these guys' former bands were sweaty. If "In a Cave" sounds a bit more like the music Canty and Busher used to make, French Toast still relies more on craft than on zeal.

"Faint Sounds," which opens the Nein's "Wrath of Circuits," promises a "party, party atmosphere." That doesn't mean one of those "rock 'n' roll all night" affairs, but more of a neo-Dadaist noisefest. In their basic form, such Nein songs as "The Vibe" and "Foreign Friendster" are catchy and driving, yet they're regularly disrupted by tempo shifts, musical asides and such raucous timbres as shrill sax and tinny toy piano.

Since the North Carolina band first recorded as a trio, it has added a new member, Dale Flattum, who has rewired the group's circuits: He injects sampled, manipulated and synth-generated din wherever it seems to fit -- or not fit. Although the result loosely conforms to the current dance-rock vogue, it has substantially more of the anarchic spirit of that style's British post-punk inspirations, notably the Fall and the Pop Group. "Wrath of Circuits" is hardly unprecedented then, but it's edgier and more invigorating than most of the Nein's current competition.

-- Mark Jenkins

Both appearing Friday at the Warehouse Next Door with Verbal.