A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Four Tet and Memento.
MAKING THE ROUNDS: Fitting somewhere between DJ Shadow and Miles Davis, Kieren Hebden's solo project Four Tet is a virtual jazz band, incorporating all sorts of odd rhythms and spliced and sampled organic sounds. There's a relaxed groove to the whole affair, with acoustic instrumentation communicating with electronic twinkles and spacey atmospheres.
His work has caught the ears of Radiohead's Thome York, Beth Orton and Richard James (aka Aphex Twin), and his 2003 album "Rounds" is shaping up to be the set that may teleport Hebden out of cultdom.
"Rounds" was released in May by Domino Recordings, and in six months it has sold more than 12,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. While that's far from blockbuster status, it's an impressive number for an album that has relied on college radio and has received little press.
So while Hebden, who began his professional career as the guitarist for post-rock trio Fridge, may not be selling out venues yet, his adventurous compositions are earning him the adoration of his peers. With a little help, Hebden may be one of the breakout stars of 2004. Last month, his remix of Radiohead's "Scatterbrain" was released on the U.K. single for "2+2=5," and Hebden was recently tapped as a producer by Orton.
"A lot of electronic music isn't very dangerous," Hebden told Billboard earlier this year. "But you can be experimental without losing sight of the need for melody and structure. My background is in jazz and improvisation, and I'm always trying something different. The idea is that the sound should be something that is impossible for a band to do. Why else use machines?"
The focus is on listenability rather than experimentation, and while Hebden may mix American jazz with German electronics, Four Tet would please listeners in a chamber hall or a coffeeshop. It sometimes sounds like an all-digital version of Tortoise, but the computer-savvy Hebden appeals to a broad audience, as evidenced by his recent tour with hip-hop instrumentalist Prefuse 73.
Additionally, "Rounds" was the first Four Tet album to dent any of Billboard's charts, arriving at No. 25 on the Top Electronic Albums tally when it was released.
SOMETHING TO REMEMBER: Columbia Records rock act Memento was born in hotel rooms.
Before founding Memento, Justin Stewart Cotta and Steve Clark were bandmates in Jon Crosby's VAST. Yet the two had ambitions beyond carrying out Crosby's industrial-leaning soundscapes. In their downtime on tour, guitarist Cotta and drummer Clark recorded on an eight-track, eventually growing confident enough in their own material to quit VAST.
The two moved to Los Angeles and rounded their new group with the obscurely named Lats on bass and Space on guitar. The four bonded over a like-minded hard rock vision, creating a sound that has earned Memento comparisons to Tool and Alice in Chains. After only a few months on the L.A. club circuit, Memento was noticed by Columbia, and the label not only inked the band to a deal, but secured a slot for Memento on last summer's Ozzfest tour.
The heavy metal summer bonanza has ignited the careers of a number of artists, from Chevelle to Linkin Park, and the circuit brought some attention to Memento's debut, "Beginnings." Produced by Toby Wright (Korn) and mixed by Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam), the set was released way back in February and has been slowly gaining ground since.
New single "Savior" is entering its fifth week on Billboard's Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, hanging around at No. 40 this week. Look for the song to keep doing well, as Memento was recently embraced by MTV2, and was featured on the network's "Headbanger's Ball" this week.