A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Eastmountainsouth, Madlib and Sugababes.
A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
NORTH BOUND: Prior to forming Eastmountainsouth, singer/songwriter Peter Adams was studying film scoring at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. While Adams didn't opt for a career in the film industry, his country- and folk-inspired band is cinematic in nature, transporting the listener out of L.A. via the traditional folk sounds of Appalachia.
Eastmountainsouth's back porch approach, with sparse percussion and the light touch of a fiddle or a banjo, is given a modern flourish with programmed atmospherics, ala the Handsome Family. The subtle use of electronics gives the music a grander feel, and the L.A. club scene has responded by tagging the duo of Adams and singer/songwriter Kat Maslich "ambient country." Yet even with the electronic backdrops, Eastmountainsouth conjures an image of late-night acoustics.
On its self-titled debut for DreamWorks, Eastmountainsouth places traditional material like "Hard Times" and "The Ballad of Young Alban and Amandy" alongside refined originals, such as the galloping "You Dance" or the spare and poignant "Ghost." Whether they are interpreting older songs or writing their own elegant tales of heartbreak, Adams and Maslich always save space for some lovely harmonizing.
The two met a few years back when Adams was working for a television and film production company. Maslich showed up to audition for a TV spot, and while she didn't get the gig, Adams didn't forget her voice. The two later hooked up at a local club, and soon became regulars on the L.A. circuit, and were eventually signed to DreamWorks by Robbie Robertson.
Maslich, a Virginia native who had been to L.A. numerous times with the hope of launching a music career, was surprised the city so readily embraced the group. It helped that Eastmountainsouth had the good fortune of forming just as L.A.'s burgeoning country scene, which is also home to De Lisle, I See Hawks In L.A. and Speedbuggy, among others, was starting to kick up dust.
"I've been out here 12 or 13 years now, off and on, and it's never been like this," Maslich recently told Billboard. "It's great. Maybe people are beginning to realize that they want to hear something--for lack of a better word, not to sound pretentious -- a little bit more cerebral than just straight-ahead bubble-gum pop music here in L.A."
Now Eastmountainsouth is starting to find an audience outside of L.A., thanks in part to a just completed tour with Tracy Chapman. First single "You Dance" has been embraced by NPR and Triple A stations, and last week, the song bowed on Airplay Monitor's Triple A chart at an impressive No. 14.
MAD FOR JAZZ: Eccentric hip-hop artist Madlib has always tackled the genre like an old-school jazz musician, putting improvisation and experimentation at the forefront. With his psychedelic alter-ego Quasimoto, he's created a wacky, off-the-wall style that's grounded in free association, as influenced by genre-hopping sax man Wayne Shorter as it is any rapper.
Madlib even went so far as to manufacture his own jazz act, Yesterday's New Quintet. Billed as a four-piece, Madlib handled all the roles of the group, and attempted to create a balance between hip-hop and jazz by melding early '70s styles with frenetic breakbeats. Legendary jazz label Blue Note recently gave Madlib the opportunity to tackle the material in its vaults, allowing him to reimagine works by Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Bobby Hutcherson, among others.
"I picked out a bunch of stuff, and [Blue Note] sent me what they could," Madlib recently told Billboard. "There's a lot of stuff that I have that didn't make the album. I wanted to take more of the funkier stuff from the '60s and '70s, the funkier side of stuff that you don't really hear about."
The album," Madlib Shades of Blue," which was released in June on Blue Note/Capitol, features reworkings of the jazz originals. Instead of smacking modern technology onto the catalog, Madlib infuses the tunes with dusty grooves that accentuate the original arrangements rather than overpower them. It's not unlike Moby's reworkings of old blues standards on his last two releases.
The set has been receiving rave reviews in the jazz, hip-hop and rock communities, and "Madlib Shades of Blue" has spent four weeks on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz Albums tally. It peaked at No. 8, and last week found itself at a still respectable No. 10. To date, it's sold 10,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan.
There are more Madlib-related releases on the way. A hip-hop album with the like-minded Jaylib is due in the fall on Stones Throw Records. Additionally, Madlib is wrapping a new album under the Yesterday's New Quintet moniker, and has done production work on an upcoming album from Dudley Perkins and the debut full-length from his younger brother, Oh No, both to be released on Stone's Throw.
GIMME SOME SUGAR: All-girl trio the Sugababes is a huge sensation in the U.K., but U.S pop audiences, perhaps wary of another Spice Girls, have thus far ignored the group.
Using three-part harmonies and a fondness for rock, the Sugababes offer bouncy radio-friendly pop. The trio has topped the charts in England with a reworking of Adina Howard's "Freak Like Me," and even won a Brit Award, but a U.S. release of 2002's "Angels With Dirty Faces" never materialized. Universal Records pushed the singles "Freak Like Me" and "Round Round" on these shores, but neither struck a chord with U.S. pop fans.
There are some signs, however, that the Sugababes may yet break in America. The Garbage-inspired "Round Round" has finally landed on Billboard's Hot Dance Singles Sales chart. The single, which was released about a year ago by Universal, bowed at No. 19 last week. The continued success of "Round Round" in the U.K. has spurred club play in America.
Additionally, the Sugababes are recording with hit-making triothe Matrix, who co-wrote and produced much of Avril Lavigne's Arista debut "Let Go," and helped indie-rock queen Liz Phair get on the radio. No release date or U.S. label has yet been announced for the forthcoming album.