Though Laika's music is often likened to the club groove called "jungle," Fiedler and Fixsen buoy the bottom-feeding bass of that style to keep it from drowning the high-end frippery. It's anybody's guess as to how well this organized automation will come off in a live setting. According to band members, the album's title phrase, borrowed from Yeats by an early avant-garde electronic composer, implies the "naive 1950s idea" that technology could accomplish anything. As it turns out, technology's promise was that it could attempt anything. How thoroughly it could replace warm bodies is another matter entirely.

-- James Sullivan
Laika plays a special early show (8 p.m.) Wed, July 12, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 626-4455.

The Verve
A Northern Soul
(Vernon Yard)

In a U.S. music arena of testosterone riffs and sullen rock stars, the Verve boasts an unabashed English sound, full of strong melodies, ethereal fluff, and a druggy, whoa-I'm-peaking whine. After the British quartet's top-notch 1993 debut, Storm in Heaven, and No Come Down, a B-sides collection, the Verve attempts A Northern Soul in the face of all the expectations and pressures that come with the sophomore jinx, which, in a sense, it transcends. Sure, it's tough to live up to a hype factory that equates your work with the second coming, names you heir to the Stone Roses' already waning legacy, and champions you as the only contemporary chaps that band du jour Oasis will plug in interviews. But when the first loop of Richard Ashcroft's croon wraps on "This Is Music," there's every indication that this will be just as dynamic and psychedelic as any previous work.

Owen Morris, who produced Oasis' Definitely Maybe, gives the band a trademark Brit-rock sound: as layered as the atmosphere, as trance-rhythmic as waves crashing on a beach, and as bleary-eyed as a pop star at Redding. The lulls of "A Brainstorm Interlude" and "Drive You Home" softly swirl into sparse mood music, dramatizing the slow build of "History" and the soaring "No Knock on My Door." But at times, Soul doesn't flow with the seamless cadences that marked the debut, especially earlier on. One more gripe: The thick strings that flush out the edges on several tracks are nowhere near as cool as the horn trio that supplied an adjunct environment on Storm. Nonetheless, with music that can drift from puffy clouds and cool breezes to thunderclaps and stirring gusts, Soul only falls one breath short of aural ecstasy.

-- Jeff Stark
The Verve plays Tues, July 18, at Slim's in S.F.; call 255-0333.

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