"I can't believe I forgot it." Lisa Molinaro is riding in the backseat of a tan Econoline van cruising south on I-5 towards Eugene. There she and her Talkdemonic bandmate, Kevin O'Connor, will play the second show of their current national tour at WOW Hall.

The dramatic drum-viola-laptop duo, which won WW's "Best New Band" poll last year, is moving up in the indie rock world, and the first casualty is Molinaro's old viola. For 13 years, she tucked that instrument beneath her chin, through years of practice and the recording of two albums with O'Connor, 2004's Mutiny Sunshine and the recently released Beat Romantic. Despite the memories, Molinaro has moved on.

"With the old one, it really sounded like the sound was coming out of a little tiny hole," Molinaro says. "With the new one, it actually sounds like the music is coming straight off the strings."

Molinaro purchased her new viola, a 2000 Daniel Mason, just the week before. The 30-year-old had been hunting for a new ax since she and O'Connor, 28, finished recording Beat Romantic more than eight months ago. Al Faruolo, a Vancouver specialist in instrument restoration and repair, helped her make the final decision.

"He wanted me to go and ask the shop to reseal this one because it had gaps," recalls Molinaro. "He insisted that I do it since I was spending $5,000 on the thing. I didn't know if I could. Then he took a knife and pried open the body and said, 'Well, now they've got to fix it.'"

Molinaro bought that viola and never looked back.

Despite its percussive moniker, Beat Romantic is as much a showcase for Molinaro's singing strings as it is for O'Connor's walloping drums. The album opens with a loping viola track that is doubled and then doubled again into a orchestra of the instrument. The effect is palate-cleansing.

The rest of the album's songs are grounded in intricate acoustic tracks that are played at live shows through a laptop. O'Connor's drums add the power and flourish, but when Molinaro's viola makes an appearance, it is the center of attention.

This might be why the opening night of the band's tour March 7 at Doug Fir fell flat. In the sound mix, Molinaro's viola was obscured, causing the normally unflappable musician to interrupt the chilling "Manhattan '89" to ask the sound engineer to crank up the volume—he didn't.

The Eugene show was the exact opposite. The duo was equally respresented in the sound system and equally admired in the crowd (both have indie kids fawning).

Fast-forward two weeks: The band's 7,000-mile tour has had its high point (opening for the Go Team in front of 700 in D.C.) and its low (waking up in Denver to the news that half their gear had been stolen). Molinaro's viola and O'Connor's drums didn't get swiped, but the red, glowing heart that has accompanied the band onstage for the past few years did.

"They stole my heart," O'Connor says. "Now we're going to have to rock twice as hard."

Talkdemonic celebrates the release of

Beat Romantic

with Wet Confetti Saturday, April 1, at Holocene. 9 pm. $8 advance. 21+.