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Breaking & Entering
A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Fountains Of Wayne, Mest and Grandaddy.A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
WAYNE'S WORLD: The peppy power-pop of New York-based quartet Fountains Of Wayne zips by with sugar-coated keyboards and cheerleader handclaps that would make for a perfect soundtrack to a Saturday morning cartoon. Indeed, last year VH1 tapped the band to score its animated series "Hey Joel." While the cartoon has yet to air, the band used the VH1 money to fund its third album, "Welcome Interstate Managers."
"We were asked to be in it as animated characters and actually write original music for the series," Fountains Of Wayne co-leader Adam Schlesinger recently told Billboard. "We produced a whole season's worth of shows for them -- including two songs per episode. Then we did the whole score. We did 13 episodes and a pilot."
It wasn't the band's first foray into the world of scoring. Fountains Of Wayne recently penned the theme song to Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers," and Schlesinger has written for the films "Josie and the Pussycats" and "That Thing You Do!" The members of Fountains Of Wayne have had as much, if not more success, writing for films and television than they've had with their own albums.
"Welcome Interstate Managers," the band's first release in four years, may start to change that. The long-awaited album has received incredibly positive reviews, and radio is slowly embracing first single "Stacy's Mom," which features irresistible stop-and-go guitars reminiscent of "Just What I Needed" from the Cars. The group's debut for S-Curve/Virgin after two Atlantic albums has also given Fountains Of Wayne its debut on The Billboard 200, arriving last week at No. 150.
The characters on "Welcome Interstate Managers" -- from an airline pilot who was fired for reading High Times to a waitress who's more interested in talking to her friends than pouring coffee -- are written with the kind of detail often reserved for literature. As the title suggests, the majority of the album's 16 songs offer a humorously poignant look at middle-class working life. It's a topic Schlesinger and co-writer Chris Collingwood, both the products of suburbia, have long attempted to capture on record.
"There's probably just something about the rhythm of everyday business life that's fascinating to both of us," Collingwood says. "We both have big collections of photographs of salesmen from the '30s and '20s -- things you can get at flea markets [or] sales conventions. The album art is based on that."
Fountains Of Wayne will play Milwaukee's Summerfest on July 3 and begin a headlining club tour July 5 in Nashville with singer/songwriter Ben Lee in tow.
THE MEST WE'RE IN: With each act that scores mainstream success, dozens of other like-minded bands continue to strum their guitars in relative obscurity. Witness Mest, a Chicago-based pop-punk group that has sat on the sidelines while the music of bands such as Good Charlotte and Sum 41 has been blasted all over MTV.
For more than six years, Mest has alternated snotty anthems with lighthearted, ska-influenced songs, melding the brashness of early Green Day with the more positive lyrical outlook of MXPX. The band even snared a contract with Madonna's Warner Bros. imprint Maverick Records, but after two albums for the label, Mest continued to be confined to Warped Tour's second stage.
So, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The group enlisted Good Charlotte vocalist Benji Madden for a guest shot on "Jaded (These Years)," the first-single on Mest's third Maverick effort. To further ensure notice, Maverick funded a glossy video directed by Stephen Murashige, who's done work for Incubus and the Ataris, among others, for the slow-building rocker.
So far, it's working. The self-titled album had a smashing debut last week on The Billboard 200, landing at No. 64. It was Mest's first appearance on the big tally. Previously, the group hadn't charted higher than No. 12 on the magazine's Heatseekers chart, a post it reached in 2001 with "Destination Unknown."
While the appearance of Madden has opened new doors for the band, it's notable that mass retailer Best Buy also had a hand in Mest's high debut. The outlet had been selling the CD for the budget price of $6.99, a promotion it heavily touted in its newspaper advertisements.
Mest will be appearing on this summer's Warped Tour.
FATHER'S DAY: Experimental folk-pop act Grandaddy has wowed critics with its pleasant mix of electronics and breezy guitars. Lyrically, the Modesto, Calif.-based act has tackled weighty subjects like the loss of individualism in the capitalistic grind and the erosion of nature due to the growth of technology. It's not exactly the formula for radio acceptance.
Yet thanks to singer/songwriter and MTV2 favorite Pete Yorn, Grandaddy is seeing its fan base increase. Yorn tapped the critical favorites as a support act on his recent tour, and fans have responded by snatching up copies of Grandaddy's latest V2 Records effort, "Sumday."
The album, which landed at a robust No. 84 last week on The Billboard 200, continues with Grandaddy's favorite themes. Highlights such as "The Go In the Go-For-It" and "The Group Who Couldn't Say" attack corporate life a bit more bluntly than the band has done in the past. "Her drag and click never yielded anything as perfect as a dragonfly," lead singer Jason Lytle softly sings on the "The Group Who Couldn't Say."
Yet what truly separates "Sumday" from previous Grandaddy efforts is the album's focus on melody. If Brian Wilson had produced the Byrds, it likely would have sounded something like this album. Instead of drowning the songs in down-and-out keyboard atmospherics, "Sumday" takes a page from Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," using eccentric sounds to enhance the song's meaning rather than overshadow it.
Grandaddy will launch a headlining tour in August.