Hands: Synesthesia (Kill Rock Stars) 

L.A. synth-pop quartet Hands have crafted a dynamite little debut. Synesthesia—the term means interconnected sense impressions—is party music on its surface what with the club-thumping drum beats and '80s-era, spiky, single-note guitar lines. But the album also evokes dreamy, powerful, melancholy settings. And the hype, which includes being named a Band You Don't Know (But Should) by Time magazine, isn't overwhelming, thereby making Hands easier to hold close to one's heart.

From the jittery yet bass-heavy groove of "Trouble," in which singer/keyboardist Geoff Halliday's aching melody communicates love's inherent desire and despair, to the marching, rim shot-fluttering "Videolove," the band envelops the listener in dense, atmospheric moods. Hands would deny and perhaps even loathe the comparison, but in its yearning, catchy grandeur, Synesthesia evokes long-ago dance-rock masterpiece Reach the Beach by The Fixx. This is an ideal spin-at-nighttime disc, shot through with emotion and sonic diversity.

Indeed, it's not all straight-up keyboards. There's some serious, full-on, arena-ready rock 'n' roll, too, as with drum kit-bashing "Brave Motion," which straps testicles onto the Coldplay formula of piano and soaring vocals. There are also tricky Afro-pop beats à la Vampire Weekend—see "House of Jars" and "Kinetic"—and an unironic ploy for Billboard 100 status with the Imagine Dragons-ish tune "Take It All."

Kill Rock Stars seems an odd home for Hands, but credit the Pacific Northwest indie-punk label with releasing a synth-based album that's stirring.

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