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Part of the post-rock/neo-Kraut/retro-electronic revival of the late '90s, U.K. trio Appliance deftly sidesteps the sometimes overbearing seriousness of those tags with a warm glow to their music, as wonderfully captured on their debut Manual. Perhaps unsurprising given their home at Mute Records, Appliance calls to mind kings of electronic music Kraftwerk, but in the Autobahn/Radioactivity sense of gentle melancholy rather than the frigid propulsion of Trans-Europe Express. An even stronger touchstone is the powerful beat and equally striking ambient drift of Neu!, whose motorik percussion gets clearly referenced on "Food Music." Stereolab is a likely touchstone for the band as well, but Appliance is clever enough not to clone too much, changing the opening guitar chime of "Pre-Rocket Science" to a crisp funk wah-wah after the opening notes. Lead bandmember James Brooks delivers his lyrics flatly, not quite in a spoken word approach but only just singing them, relying on understatement to get his sometimes bemusing, sometimes creepy images across. Together he and bandmates David Ireland and Michael Parker use an astounding range of instruments (at least 50 are listed in the liner notes) to create songs that stand out; they are striking not because of their flowery complexity but due to their obsessive, trancy drive, whether on the rock-of-the-gods surge of "Throwing a Curve Ball" or on the slow-building concluding crunch of "Pacifica," or on more restrained brain fryers like the amusingly-titled "Heroes of Telemark." Appliance aren't above a wry wit as well, titling one strong, chug-trance number "Enjoy Your Nutrition," while branding others tracks with such names as "Hot Pursuit" and perhaps the all-too-appropriate "Soyuz." Though the connections to the past are strong, the trio brings out the best in their influences; while they haven't quite made a distinct mark of their own yet, the three do have a great start under their belt already.

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