October 25, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

You’ll have to excuse Cynics founder/guitarist Gregg Kostelich if he takes a somewhat, um, cynical view of the current garage-rock boom. After all, the Cynics have been keeping the garage torch burning since 1983, when they formed in Pittsburgh. As with other kindred spirits from that time (the Lyres and the Chesterfield Kings spring to mind), the Cynics, God bless them, place a premium on staying true to the sound and vibe of their fave ’60s rockers. The echo of the Chocolate Watchband, the Sonics, the Standells, and others — whose legacies live on in Little Steven’s syndicated Underground Garage radio show and on Rhino Records’ 1998 and 2001 Nuggets boxed sets — comes through like a rude blast of fuzz-tone guitar.

The Cynics’ first album was 1986’s ripsnorting Blue Train Station, which was followed by Twelve Flights Up, Rock ‘N’ Roll, Learn to Lose, and Get Our Way (a new CD, Living Is the Best Revenge, is due Nov. 1); all are regarded by connoisseurs as the real deal: gnarly, sweaty, raucous, and brimming with snotty attitude (courtesy of singer Michael Kastelic). But this new stuff? ”I’d say the word garage is being very loosely applied these days. The White Stripes are great, but they’re more like a really raw blues band to me,” says Kostelich, 43, who owns the Get Hip label, which, in addition to putting out discs by nuevo garage kids like the Gore Gore Girls, is also reissuing an expanded, remastered version of Rock ‘N’ Roll on CD. And although the group did break up for a few years in the ’90s (victims of ”substance abuse problems and burnout,” says Kostelich), the guys are back together and in it for the long haul. Should the interest in down-and-dirty music help them sell a few records, Kostelich says, ”that’s just extra gravy. Still, I doubt we’re gonna benefit. We’re not 20 years old and good-looking anymore.” Hey, who said great garage music was supposed to be pretty?

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