A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: The Stills, the Rapture and Hieroglyphics.
IN MOTION: Interpol and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have became the hipster bands of choice by making 1980s-influenced rock cool again. Both acts place a heavy emphasis on style, and cop a fashionable attitude with dark glasses and darker suits. As for sound, cult faves Joy Division and the Jesus and Mary Chain provide the template. Now into the fray comes Canadian quartet the Stills, which wraps similar influences with a softer edge.
Instead of the icy detachment of their influences, the guitars of the Stills shimmer with starlight warmth. The band certainly has a love for the gloominess of Joy Division and the Smiths, but on first album "Logic Will Break Your Heart," the Stills grace their '80s influences with prom theme idealism reminiscent of Coldplay's breakthrough single "Yellow."
Lead singer Tim Flether sings as if he's floating off into a dream, letting Greg Paquet's guitar work blanket over him as he offers the kind of sensitive sentiments ready made for high school notebooks. "Don't be afraid to be afraid here with me," he sings on "Let's Roll," which rides a cymbal-fueled percussion into a grand burst of fuzz and feedback.
The Montreal-based band came of age last summer in New York, which, in addition to Interpol, is home to like-minded groups such as Longwave and the Walkmen. Playing shows nearly every week, the Stills built a bit of a buzz and signed with Vice Records, a label that created quite an industry stir last year when it released the debut from the Streets.
Shows with Interpol, the Music and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs helped the Stills further build their following, and the group is currently on the road with Echo & the Bunnymen. "Logic Will Break Your Heart" bowed last week at No. 45 on Billboard's Top Independent Albums tally. Earlier this year, the Stills released a four-song EP, "Rememberse," but the full-length gives the act its first appearance on any of Billboard's charts.
THAT'S A RAP: New York buzz act the Rapture has managed the rare feat of getting indie rockers to dance.
With a retro sound ripped from the Cure and Gang of Four, the band shot to the forefront of the so-called "dancepunk" scene. Groups such as Radio 4, the Liars and Erase Errata mine similar territory, but few have snared the same level of hype as the Rapture.
The band was born in San Francisco in the late-1990s, but didn't began winning over indie rockers and club revelers alike until relocating to New York. There, the group met hot production duo the DFA, and about a year ago signaled its new dance-driven direction with independently-released single "House of Jealous Lovers."
Vocalist Luke Jenner plays give-and-take with his guitar, alternating his cat-scream vocals with riffs that sound as if they're leaving skid marks on the pavement. Yet with Matt Safer's sloppy, funky bassline, coupled with some handclaps and cowbells, the song became a club staple and won the band a contract with Strummer Recordings, the Universal-affiliated label that's also home to the Mars Volta.
Long-awaited debut album "Echoes" was completed last summer but wasn't released in the U.S. until two weeks ago. Again featuring production work by the DFA, the set has a dirty, garage-rock feel. In turn, "Echoes" doesn't just owe a debt to acts like Public Image Ltd., it sounds as if it were recorded in the same era.
"Echoes" bowed at No. 121 on The Billboard 200. It also landed at No. 2 on the magazine's Heatseekers chart. The group will be on the road through the end of the month and will conclude its club tour with three shows in early December at New York's Bowery Ballroom.
RAP IN THE ROUND: "Never underestimate the power of illusion" Hieroglyphics declare on "Powers That Be," a cut from new album "Full Circle." The line comes after a serious condemnation of U.S. foreign policy, but it doubles as a manifesto for the all-star underground hip-hop act.
The Oakland-based collective, featuring Del the Funky Homosapien, Casual, Pep Love, Domino and the Souls of Mischief, is built on sly give-and-take vocal techniques and subtly distinctive production. Like fellow California acts Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples, Hieroglyphics are master minimalists, relying on lyrical wordplay and freestyling to provide a counterpoint to the sonic backdrops.
The follow-up to 1998's "Third Eye Vision," "Full Circle" essentially chronicles the difficulty of surviving as an independent and staying true to one's ideals. Led by the pop-culture-heavy raps of Del the Funky Homosapien, the Hieroglyphics came to be in the mid-1990s, once Del parted ways with Elektra Records to start his own label, Hiero Imperium.
Each member of the Hieroglyphics crew has already built a cult following on his own, making "Full Circle" one of the more anticipated independent hip-hop albums of the year. Additionally, the label's Web site has become a sort of West Coast answer to Philadelphia-based Okayplayer.com, supporting a wide-range of Northern California artist, including Goapele and Tajai.
Like Del, Souls of Mischief and Casual are also major label survivors, but what was moderate success in the mainstream music world has made the Hieroglyphics stars of the underground. "Full Circle" became the act's first album to reach The Billboard 200, arriving last month at No. 155. Additionally, the album has spent three weeks on the magazine's Heatseekers chart, peaking at No. 7.
Hieroglyphics conclude a U.S. tour Nov. 7 in Sacramento, Calif.