January 22, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Rock critics (this one included) love to play comparison games: Here’s a band that reminds us of that one, while this singer recalls so-and-so from such-and-such a distant past. Never is the ”sounds like…” pastime handier than at the beginning of a new year. By then, the record industry has finished rolling out its pre-Christmas super-duper-star albums and can finally unveil discs by new acts who would otherwise be buried beneath the avalanche of big-name releases. The first month of 1999 is no exception.

You’re in search of futuristic music that pushes the envelope already opened by the Chemical Brothers, Fatboy Slim, and all those techno acts you’ve been hearing in TV ads? On How to Operate With a Blown Mind, the Lo-Fidelity Allstars answer the question: What would happen if a barking, beat-inspired Goth fronted a shambling electronica band that dabbled in everything from drum-and-bass to hectic break beats? A potential headache, for one, but also cinematic big-beat symphonies like ”Kool Roc Bass” and ”Vision Incision,” complete with frontman Dave Randall’s raves about ”screaming sirens/skyscraper coffins” and other matters cataclysmic. One of Randall’s own lyrics sums up the Allstars: They’re a ”disco machine gun,” with detours into psychedelia (”Kasparov’s Revenge”), electro (”Lazer Sheep Dip Funk”), and ambient (the album’s title track).

At the moment, the Lo-Fidelity Allstars feel a little shapeless; more than many debut discs, How to Operate With a Blown Mind lurches about in a greater number of directions than it should, making for a slippery album. But it also heralds a new wave of rock bands who aren’t rock bands, who envision a future in which forms old and new meld into each other. (It’s revealing that the Allstars include a DJ sampler but not a guitarist.) They’re trying to redefine what ”rock” is at the end of the century, and they inadvertently prove how tricky that can be. Until they settle on their future, the chaotic rush of their first album can at least fill an important need: When the Y2K bug kicks in next New Year’s Day and mass riots and communication breakdowns ensue, we’ll need something to score the mayhem, won’t we? B

Anand Tucker
Emily Watson
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