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March 02, 1995|JIM WASHBURN

Laika and the Cosmonauts

"The Amazing Colossal Band"

Upstart Records

*

Remember how scientists said it would take years for the true effects of the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown to become manifest? Laika and the Cosmonauts may be the proof of that. Nothing short of years of consuming radioactive reindeer meat can account for the wild delirium of this Finnish instrumental rock quartet.

The Finnish fiords aren't famed for affording good surfing, yet the Cosmonauts (there is no Laika in the group; it took its name from the Soviet space program's Laika, the first dog in space) take surf rock, '60s spy movie music and other twangy influences and send them spiraling into space.

Studio drummer Janna Haavisto, who hosted a surf music radio show in the late '80s, recruited some of his fellow studio players to start making some surf sounds of their own. "The Amazing Colossal Band" is the group's fourth album, though only its second U.S. release, following last year's "Instruments of Terror."

Championed by Texas guitar whiz and critic Teisco Del Rey, the Cosmonauts were a sensation at Austin's South by Southwest music conference and festival. Those who caught the group's U.S. shows last year came away raving. (By the way, Laika and Co. play Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim on March 12.)

Remember the Tornadoes' 1962 hit "Telstar" with its lonely sound and eerie organ? That's pretty much where Laika takes off from. As campy as some of their material is--including here the themes from "The Avengers," "The Ipcress File" and the bongo-driven "Get Carter"--there is always an overriding sense of mood and mystery to their music.

"Global Village" sounds like it could be a Winter Olympics theme echoing through a chilly skating rink, while the shimmering guitars of "Floating" captures the terrifying beauty of a spacewalk. On "The A-Treatment" raga-rock modal riffs collide with spy movie twist music. While many of the tracks boast an intricacy and quirkiness worthy of a Nino Rota or Ennio Morricone, the group also rocks with a vicious edge on the biker movie soundtrack tune "Skater Dater."

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