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Laika & the Cosmonauts

Once upon a time, grasshopper, instrumental rock bands were common. Groups like the Ventures, Champs, Shadows, Dick Dale, and (the occasionally vocal) Link Wray & the Raymen rocked both sides of the Atlantic waithout the "benefit" of a singer. (The Who's Pete Townshend remarked that were it not for Wray, he might never have picked up a guitar.) Then the British Invasion and the intellectualization of rock rendered them passé. But anyone with a memory going back more than ten years knows music trends move in cycles. Although instrumental bands aren't climbing up the charts, they have carved a new niche, and Finland's Laika & the Cosmonauts is one of the better groups within their own genre. Not to be confused with post-rockers Laika, the roots of Laika & the 'nauts are in 1950s and '60s trash and noir film music, surf-rock (Dale), and cool soundtrack music such as Ennio Morricone (scorer of many a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western). The melodramatically ominous "Floating" and "Land's End" evoke Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name galloping toward Destiny. The spidery modal playing of "Turquoise" conjures romantic intrigue in Morocco (or southernmost Spain). "Expose" is space-age ska, and "Global Village" chugs along like the worldly cousin of Booker T. & the MG's' "Time Is Tight." Retro? Yes, and proud of it — and Laika & TC are so darned cool (no excess notes, tunes as sharp as the crease on a new pair of sharkskin pants) that it matters not. Twenty-seven songs in 76 minutes: the deal of the year.

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