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Killola – “I Am the Messer”

(Our Records) ***

Killola plays the Milestone Sept. 16 at 8 p.m. $8. www.themilestoneclub.com.

Los Angeles' Killola recalls punk's seedy beginnings – messy and unpolished with hooks and talent beneath the sweat, torn costumes, and smeared makeup.

Female singer Lisa Rieffel is the band's secret weapon. Over rapid-fire guitars and hoppy keyboards, she wails like a female Vince Neil with a snarling Pat Benatar attitude; she's capable of switching from little girl to Geddy Lee.

Killola trades the art-school bent of like-minded band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for musical theater, mixing new-wave hooks, punk attitude and a playful side that begs for a day-glow '80s-style video.

And just when you think you've got Killola figured out, it whips out the Middle Eastern interlude “The Man From Kilimanjaro” (which sounds like a Renaissance Fair outtake from “Hair”) or illustrates dolled-up innocence with the oddly funny Italian café-meets-girl-group ditty “You Can't See Me Because I'm a Stalker.”

Soft Targets – “Heavy Rainbow”

(Cloud 13 Records) ***

Soft Targets play Snug Harbor Sunday at

9 p.m. $5. 704-333-9799.

Tallahassee's Soft Targets exist where emo, indie and soft rock collide ever so gently. Its appropriately titled second disc “Heavy Rainbow” is like a warm quilt. The disc's first stitches recall early '80s Lindsay Buckingham-led Fleetwood Mac pop. And although cozy and muted, the patchwork pattern is made up of several disparate layers that fit surprisingly well together.

Singer Jesse Corry often sings as if he's on the verge of tears, twisting the angst of Spandau Ballet with the emoting of Arcade Fire's Win Butler. Charlotte native Nate Sadler provides playful, subtle nuances on keyboards and bass.

Halfway through the disc, the trio unleashes its inner Replacements with the forceful chorus of “So Long, Baby Burns” and reveals a soft spot for Johnny Marr's Smiths-era jangle guitar on the chipper “Skyscraper.” “Sirens,” on the other hand, marries ragtime-like keyboards with R&B-influenced vocal harmonies.