The Standard (Yep Roc Records)

With a name like that, you know it's gonna be heavy.

[DARK POP] It would be easy to call the Standard bandwagon-hoppers. Through the band's six-year lifespan, it has shifted its sound as often as you're supposed to flip your mattress. The band's earliest recordings, 2000's World's Greatest and 2001's self-titled release, were distortion-heavy, classic-rock-inspired guitar epics; 2002's August and 2003's Promise saw the band turning into a melodic and melancholy prog-rock band, while last year's Wire Post to Wire was all jagged post-punk. Notice a trend? That's right: This band is in step with every major trend in the indie-rock world of the past five years. But lest you think the Standard a band of copycatting hipsters, keep in mind that each of these releases predated and mutated the more standard sounds that emerged from those trends. The Standard is simply on the cutting edge, its catalog held together by meticulous instrumentation, the increasingly profound production of Jeff Saltzman and Tim Putnam's unmistakable warbling vocals jabbing violently above and into all that music. On the band's latest, Albatross, that voice is not only the thread that keeps the album together; it is the emotional core of the music, the only thing that really matters, but certainly not the only thing worth listening to. The band has coalesced around this, its greatest asset, and created some of the darkest, yet most beautiful music of its career. Songs like "How Deep to Cut" and the excellent "Feet and Hands" are brooding, rhythm-heavy tracks backing Putnam's stories, hooking the listener with simple repetition before Putnam breaks away, the musical acrobats-strengthened by five years of experimenting with sound-crescendoing before Putnam's voice returns, even more fragile and vital. Vulnerable and dark, this is the sound of 2006. MARK BAUMGARTEN.

Fleshtone | Sept. 23 at Holocene

Portland's oddest storytellers lose their audience to the boobs.

Even for something as unconventional as an electro-pop opera, Fleshtone, which is performed regularly at Holocene (1001 SE Morrison St., 239-7639), is unexpectedly odd. Last Friday, three women in skimpy red leotards hopped into water-filled buckets and slowly rubbed wet sponges over their bodies. In the background, a makeup-laden man hunched over a Mac and a table full of drum machines and instruments producing upbeat pop-electronic music. And then a grown man in a diaper entered the frame.

The most interesting thing about that show, even taking into consideration the giant diaper, is the fact that it was an entirely different beast than the local performance crew's debut on June 4, or any of the other shows since.

As a work-in-progress, each Fleshtone spectacle varies from its prior incarnation, as the writers and performers-led by the Snuggle Ups' Brett Whitman and diaper-clad Joe Bryan-continuously add to the story. While the show's debut followed the life and death of Momma Fleshtone, each subsequent show has featured an added scene of her rebirth while deleting another scene, resulting in a consistent hourlong run-time for each show.

Yes, it's an ambitious narrative arc for an electro-pop opera. Yes, it's a multisensory feast that has featured genitalia-exposing hot-dog costumes, oversized metallic jungle gyms, precision choreography and outfits from both Ziggy Stardust and Eminem's closet. And no, it doesn't really jell.

While the male-heavy, slack-jawed crowd seemed largely entertained by Friday's show, the shout-outs were reserved for its softcore porn moments. But it wasn't just approval of the visually explicit-nods were issued when Momma Fleshtone waxed poetic about her clitoris or told her hungry man-child, "Get your thumbs off my titties." Why? Because, as we all know, boobies are hysterical, which is ultimately the catch-22 of something as ambitious and unreserved as Fleshtone. While the larger story and concept are present, and should be applauded, any attempt to appreciate or relay it is lost in the emphasis on skinny girls wearing weird-ass shit. KARLA STARR.