ONE HUNDRED BEACONS - Fortress Madonna (Laughing Outlaw)

After less than a year and a half, newish label Laughing Outlaw, is fast building a rep as Australia's home of electic/ music, thanks in no small part to the disparate tastes of principals Stuart Coupe and Jules Normington. The former a Sydney writer who championed the cause of some seriously worthwhile bands in the 1980s, the latter the onetime honcho of Phantom Records (who sold, and put out, music by similarly seriously worthwhile bands.)

Fortress Madonna, if the publicity is to be believed, are a shadowy bunch of Northern Hemisphere denizens revolving around the musical axis of Alexis Serikov, allegedly a Russian Olympic gymnast who did time with the KGB. "One Hundred Beacons" is said to chronicle some of Serikov's experiences. Yeah...right.

"One Hundred Beacons" is actually worthy (and slightly off-the-wall) Brit-pop, with overtones of psychedelia and the emphasis on guitars. Melodious and quite wired in parts, Fortress Madonna is more a collective than a band with 16 musicians credited, including the elusive Mr Serikov on cello and is said to have since disappeared. Built around the nucleus of bassist-vocalist Nick Morwood, vocalist-guitarist Mick Murphy and (writer) Brian Sullivan.

What do they sound like? The get-go is "Serikov", a slightly surreal piece of guitar pop with a nicely over-driven bridge. "Volga" is almost Go-Betweenish with its folk guitar and lilting melody. "Shine" is rootsy mid-western rock (to these fried ears, at least.) "Diminish" retreats to the English countryside for a picnic on trips (like Britpop can only do.) "Hit the Ground" is a stand-out - all 2min8sec of weird, guitar muscle with a catchy hook - and "Outside is Fine Through These Glasses of Mine" is tough, mid-tempo rock, with Tom Verlaine-like guitar spidering away on the back of a big backbeat.

A couple of the acoustic things don't work for me (but I'm not partial to pastoral, if ya get my drift.) For the most part, it's short songs and catchy stuff and - unlike many of their contemporaries in the increasingly irrelevant mainstream Brit rock scene - not overblown. - The Barman