Houseguest sounds like the rock band playing for the youngsters in the back room at the tennis club while their parents are having a key party in the lounge: five polite nerds from Akron, Ohio bashing out fractured pop anthems like collegiate oddballs whose heroes have failed them.

Their debut album, "High Strangeness" is the second release on Audio Eagle, the label begun by fellow Akronite Pat Carney of the Black Keys. Uninhibited, frantic, drunken live shows have put muscle on the frame of these crisp, sophisticated pop songs. Led by a brooding, full-throated crooner, Houseguest makes vague sonic references to dub, and to the New Pornographers, and to the Feelies, and to Guided by Voices, but Houseguest does not sound like any of these. The music is bold and romantic, and the lyrics are at turns tender and theatrically epic. The guitars are clean and biting and the solos make the best use of doubled guitar leads since .38 Special in their prime.

If the J. Crew catalog was a rock band, it would sound approximately like this.

Standouts: "King of Crystal Skies", "Dive Deep", "Muted Mesa".

- David Giffels

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