THE REAL MEANING of "pop music" in this day and age is highly debatable. Does it mean manufactured radio hits? Sugarcoated twee singalongs? Universally compelling heartstring yankers? Or, as in the case of the Robot Ate Me, something far more strange and exotic?

While predominately referred to as a band, the Robot Ate Me is the brainchild of one Ryland Bouchard. The singer appears to be the busiest man in Anacortes, Washington, a sleepy Northwest hamlet sometimes jokingly referred to as the place where aging Olympia hipsters go to die. Bouchard certainly shows no signs of leaving our earthly plane just yet, as he also operates the Swim Slowly record label, co-runs the all-ages club The Department of Safety, and presides over a record mastering service in whatever free moments remain.

What grabs most listeners' attention when first hearing the Robot Ate Me is Bouchard's nostalgic croon, which is in many ways similar to the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, as it pierces through backdrops of electro-acoustic fringe-pop.

Sprinkled throughout the numerous releases found on the 5RC and Swim Slowly labels (including his latest, Good World) there seems to be an inner tug of war between old and new, as crackling pre-war balladry collides with skewed digital experimentalism. It would be easy to throw out the term "lo-fi," but Bouchard's modus operandi is more deliberate than your run of the mill four-track enthusiast, as if he's reconciling the romanticized fidelity of eras long passed with his own postmodern leanings.

The Robot may have eaten Ryland Bouchard, but like Jonah in the belly of the whale, he's still alive and kicking, and it's the bright uncertainty of who will win out in the end that'll keep us coming back for more.