Jan 30, 2002 at 12:00 am

Fridge is honest about its songs. Read a song title (“Cut Up Piano and Xylophone,” for example) and you know its composition. Happiness, the fourth release by the London trio, is straightforward and engaging. It sucks you in and keeps you interested with only a hastily scattered trail of breadcrumbs. Like Pole and Tortoise, Fridge composes minimalist music for those with a keen ear and a desire to be challenged. These are the melodies that the wind-up toys will be playing in the future, when children are brains in robotic bodies. Fridge experiments with the instruments that gather dust in the dark corners of the recording studio, the glockenspiels and melodicas, the tombstones of obsolete musical traditions. The simplicity of the production strips songs to their essence, extracting the pure sound layered within modern music. This isn’t easy. And though some songs fall flat, others shine in ways no other songs have shone before.

The album fluctuates between the electronic vignette and the expansive experimental rock opus. “Drum Machine and Glockenspiels” is a triumph of musical will, pure and simple. With only these two instruments, Fridge creates a beautiful, childlike song that whirls in circles and enchants anyone with the patience to sit through its nine breathtaking minutes. “Five Four Child Voice” is the most approachable song, a straightforward indie-rock song in 5/4 time with an overdubbed, babbling child’s voice. “Sample and Clicks” is a little less easy to swallow. It evokes the abrasiveness of Aphex Twin’s “Ventolin,” choosing to confuse rather than attack the eardrums. “Long Singing” sounds the way the Doves would if they pushed themselves a little harder. You cannot hum or whistle these songs. You must sublimate yourself and succumb to their vibration.

Vaporous and nerve-rattling at times, but never boring, Happiness is another fine release from a band unafraid to assault the expectations of its audience.

E-mail Joshua Gross at [email protected].