A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Jaylib and Death Cab for Cutie.
IT TAKES TWO: Madlib and Jay Dee are no strangers to Billboard's charts. Jay Dee is better known as a member of Detroit-based Slum Village, and Madlib's Blue Note album, "Shades of Blue," saw moderate success earlier this year. While neither artist has yet to score a breakout hit, the two have now combined forces to release one of underground hip-hop's most eagerly anticipated albums of 2003.
The resulting work, "Champion Sound," was released last month on Stones Throw Records. Billed as Jaylib, "Champion Sound" features Madlib and Jay Dee passing the mic back and forth to rap over each other's beats. The two are already respected as producers: Madlib first rose to prominence for his work behind the boards with Tha Liks, while Jay Dee worked on career-breaking albums for Common and D'Angelo. Therefore, it's not surprising to see that "Champion Sound" is being lauded as one of the more adventurous-sounding rap releases this year.
Incorporating jazzy grooves with Middle Eastern touches and drum-and-bass beats, "Champion Sound" is being hailed as a hazy, psychedelic hip-hop record. If the album sometimes takes a low-fi, laid-back approach, it can likely be attributed to low-key way in which the set was recorded.
The collaboration has been a few years in the making, since Madlib was floated a tape of some of Jay Dee's creations. Stones Throw chief Peanut Butter Wolf eventually put the two in contact and Madlib and Jay Dee mailed beats between Detroit and L.A. for much of the past two years before settling on what became the 17-track "Champion Sound." The album features an appearance from Talib Kweli, as well as Madlib alter-ego Quasimoto.
"Champion Sound" has already made an impact on Billboard's charts. Released in October, the album bowed at No. 92 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally. Additionally, the set debuted at No. 27 on the magazine's Heatseekers chart.
TAKE A RIDE: Just two years ago Death Cab For Cutie was a well-respected but little-known indie rock act. That all changed when band mastermind Ben Gibbard became one half of the Postal Service.
Created with Dntel's Jimmy Tamborello, the Postal Service's "Give Up" became an underground sensation for Sub Pop Records. The duo's electronic textures felt equally at home in a coffee shop and a club, and suddenly Gibbard's status was upped from cult artist to indie rock hero.
Yet the Postal Service is just a side-project to Gibbard main's act, which he started in the late 1990s. In Death Cab For Cutie's short existence, the act has become the centerpiece of fledging Seattle label Barsuk Records. Falling somewhere between the Smiths and Built To Spill, Gibbard's dour melodies became a hit with the emo crowd, and the group gradually moved into a more accessible pop direction. Released earlier this month, "Transatlanticism" is the group's fourth full-length. As its most orchestrated effort to date, the set runs from handclaps to full-on explosions of feedback.
In a Billboard.com review, Annie Zaleski wrote that "'Transatlanticism' is full of the lovely melancholy for which Death Cab is known. Gentle waves of restrained guitar and Gibbard's gloomy, earnest croon mark midtempo songs 'Tiny Vessels' and the slow-building title track, while fierce bursts of noise mark the slo-core sparseness of 'Title and Registration' and intense chordstorm 'We Looked Like Giants.'"
"Tansatlanticism" is also giving Death Cab somewhat of a hit. Building on the momentum started by the Postal Service, the album arrived amidst a flurry or press and hype, and became the group's first album to enter The Billboard 200. It arrived at No. 92 last month, and spent two weeks on the big chart. The album is still hanging around Billboard's Independent Albums tally, where it has spent seven weeks and peaked at No. 8. Last week, the set was at a respectable No. 16.