Record Review 

Borrowing stuttering rhythms, gaunt instrumentation and sinister dissonance that is then woven into glistening, hook-laden rock, Philadelphia's Laguardia bridges mid-'90s art rock and alt pop. The group's predecessors, Radiohead vs. Semisonic circa-1996, are obvious. However, beds of indie rock-informed haunting synth melodies propel Laguardia's debut, Welcome to the Middle, past efforts by contemporaries such as Muse, Phantom Planet and Fountains of Wayne.

"Roseanna" starts Middle off forebodingly, with snare, piano and swelling strings cyclically loping as vocalist Joshua Ostrander's snarling whine violently forces its way through the speakers. The tempo quickly picks up on "Holy Ghost," replete with sharply spurring handclaps and ample room for audience accompaniment. All told, much more of the disc maintains the latter example's pop-rock core. Orchestration including the poetic piano on "Bull Ride" or the swaggering jungle rhythm of "Sex" reveals Laguardia's softer tendencies and the group's strength in memorable melodies.

While style and tonal context shifts throughout Welcome -- from the angst-ridden opener to the downright sentimental "Banner" -- the production by Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Tortoise, Hum) maintains a crisp vibrancy. Surging and slinking through retro-contemporary affectations, Laguardia navigates the middle of the group's neither too abrasive nor saccharine influences.

Laguardia plays the Echo Lounge Fri., March 5. 9 p.m. $8.

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