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During the last few years, indie rock has waded crotch-deep into a blues explosion. From Reverend Horton Heat to the Grifters, the ideals of gutter culture have surfaced as either sexist kitsch or drunken haze—more caricature than exploration. Fortunately, the Rock*A*Teens’ recently released album, Cry, plays as both a celebration of and a retreat from Memphis. Based in Cabbagetown, Ga., the Teens aren’t pomo hobos like Jon Spencer or Delta 72; they prefer cathedrals to group homes and fireworks to firewater. Unlike last year’s Cramps-style debut, Cry boasts a sound grown thick and gothic to the point of being orchestral. Bombastic guitar reverb, staccato piano, and timpani tweaks frame Chris Lopez’s desperate hand-on-the-Bible moan. Most of the journey dips to waltz time, which makes the operatic moments on such songs as “Losers Weepers” and “Let Them Talk” resound like alarm clocks going off in the middle of a wake. On the fast tunes, whether in the tom-tom stomp of “Never Really Had It” or the guitar chug on “Cherry Red Compilation,” the effect can turn menacing. The usual suspects are all here—love, lust, and lethal injection—but not irony. Just as R.E.M. retraced its roots without unnecessary re-enactments, these Teens—sprouted from DQE and the Jody Grind—mine the South on their own terms. Lopez leaves markers along the way—he tries to escape sin in Savannah, fills Tennessee with daggers and a suicide, steals a car for his gal outside Nashville, and “yank-tie[s] the devil” in Mississippi. When he whispers, growls, burps, “I’m coming home” on the driven “Black Ice,” it becomes a taunt. He makes his point clear on “Rockabilly Ghetto,” when he pleads, “Don’t make me go to the rockabilly hell hole/Don’t leave me behind/In these country slums/My mind’s/A whorehouse/A crackhouse…” Flannery O’Connor couldn’t have written it better.

—Jason Cherkis