Car Alarms and Crickets
(Up Records)

If robots could emote, they'd make albums like Car Alarms and Crickets. Matt Steinke and Tassy Zimmerman (Octant, essentially) seem to be human interpreters for their famous robotic drummer--a large, rickety contraption that keeps the beat in an automated rhythm of clacks and booms. Compared to their previous effort, Shock-No-Par, this album revolves around the robot more in aesthetic than actual musical structure. It's as if Octant became more comfortable with the novelty of its existence and now understands how to translate its language. Car Alarms and Crickets is symbiotic, minimalist, and beautifully technical, with melodies too triumphantly tomorrow to be boring old new wave. The album is augmented by other of Steinke's genius inventions: a random tone generator made from a bowling ball, a remote-controlled percussion machine, light-sensitive samplers (which, when he plays live by waving his hand, makes Steinke look a mad hypnotist). Car Alarms is primal in its futurism; like the monstrous, room-sized computers of the '50s, Octant continues to pioneer something great and revolutionary. JULIANNE SHEPHERD

The Golden D

Kelly's Locker

Ah, solo records. The magical fairyland where stifled voices can express themselves freely--though often to very wooden results. For every Northern Star, there are about 800 Schizophonics.

And here are two more--each from members of the Britpop elite, each the second time these artists have sampled life on their own. Sadly, Graham Coxon is the Geri Halliwell in this pairing. As Blur's guitarist, Graham had a heavy hand in redefining all sorts of music, from pop to indie to krautrock. So, it's all the more sad that The Golden D reveals his core to be totally unoriginal. Mission of Burma covers? That's soooo Moby 1996.

St. Etienne's Sarah Cracknell fares better. Though the antithesis of sporty Mel C in image, she has the same pop-tacular heart. Kelly's Locker is like a sweet-tasting make-out session you don't want to end. Sarah's dance kitten purr is imminently sexy, sailing over soft beats to make delicious, milky pop. Stained with dual tones of melancholy and elation, songs like the torchy ballad "Judy, Don't You Worry" and the rhythm-driven "Penthouse Girl, Basement Boy," speak of classic disco liberation. Divine!

In short: Graham, go back to Blur, and leave DC punk alone! Sarah, stick around while I open this bottle of Chablis...Mrrowwr! JAMIE S. RICH