Breaking & Entering
A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Alkaline Trio, Lizz Wright, Soilwork, and Tiesto.A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
LIGHTING UP: Underground pop-punk act the Alkaline Trio has been on the verge of breaking into the mainstream for a couple years. The group sprang out of Chicago with the tunefulness of such local favorites as the Smoking Popes and Screeching Weasel, and since its 1998 debut has built a rabid fanbase in the Midwest.
Vocalist Matt Skiba has never been shy in interviews about his desire for rock stardom, and on the band's "Good Mourning," released earlier this month via Vagrant Records, the band sounds determined to achieve its goal. "Ain't nothing on the air waving the despair we feel," Skiba sings in the fist raising "We've Had Enough." The song is a pogo-inducing indictment of corporate radio that references the B-movie punk of the Misfits.
Like the Misfits, the Alkaline Trio transfers its punk anthems to a cartoon-like world inhabited by horror movie caricatures. Take "This Could Be Love," which opens "Good Mourning" with fire-alarm guitars and a smattering of foreboding church bells. In the song, Skiba sadistically imagines his own murder at the hands of a jilted lover. "You took me hostage and made your demands, I couldn't meet them so you cut off my fingers," he yells with a slight smoker's rasp.
It's an off-kilter lyrical approach that's made the Alkaline Trio stand out from its pop-punk brethren. The group recently relocated to Oakland, where it worked on "Good Mourning" with the Blink-182 production team of Joe McGrath and Jerry Finn. The move is paying off, as "Good Mourning" sees the band amping-up its choruses and sharpening its melodies.
Fans seem to be pleased as well. "Good Mourning" debuted at No. 20 on The Billboard 200 last week after selling 40,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. The band's 2001 album, "From Here to Infirmary," spent only one week on The Billboard 200, and never rose above No. 199.
SOMETHING WRIGHT: Jazzy R&B vocalist Lizz Wright has her father to thank for inspiring her to sing. He was the musical director of the family's local church, where he often encouraged his daughter to perform. Not surprisingly, the work of the 23-year-old Georgia native features a heavy gospel slant. Wright also has an affinity for jazz, which she discovered independently of her father.
"The little jazz I heard came from outside my home because I was not allowed to listen to jazz," Wright recently told Billboard. "I didn't even know that the music was jazz. I just knew that it sounded exciting to me."
Her enthusiasm resulted in her decision to pursue a singing career by studying music at Atlanta's Georgia State University. Once there, she snared a gig as a vocalist in local group In the Spirit, and became one of the city's more acclaimed young singers. People outside the South started to take notice when Wright appeared on Joe Sample's 2002 album "The Pecan Tree" (Universal).
Verve Records released her debut, "Salt," two weeks ago, and the set has already earned the artist comparisons to Jill Scott and Norah Jones. In addition to reflecting her gospel influences, "Salt" sees Wright singing over soul and Latin backdrops, and features a wide-range of repertoire, from Chick Corea and Neville Potter's "Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly" to "Soon As I Get Home," from the Broadway production "The Wiz."
The diversity has earned the artist a following outside of the jazz community, and made "Salt" one of the more highly anticipated debuts of the spring. It arrived at No. 23 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart, and landed at No. 2 on the Top Contemporary Jazz Albums tally.
GRIME AND GRIND: Swedish rock acts such as the Hives, the Sounds, and the Soundtrack of Our Lives have benefited from some major hype in recent years. Yet the country's metal scene has also been making an impact on American charts, even if the mainstream press has yet to catch on.
Just a few weeks after Opeth reached a new career peak on Billboard's charts, the Swedish act Soilwork made its debut on the Heatseekers tally. "Figure Number Five," the sextet's fifth release, entered at No. 43 on the chart dated May 24.
"Figure Number Five," released by Nuclear Blast, sees the death-metal act softening it sound, albeit slightly. Vocalist Bjorn "Speed" Strid has opted to mix a little singing in with his growls and screams, giving "Figure Number Five" not only a less contentious feel, but also one that's more likely to connect with a wider audience.
MTV2 has taken notice of the band and is featuring Soilwork on its hard rock program. To get further notice from fans, the first pressings of the CD come with a six-track bonus disc of rare material. The group is touring North America through the end of July with In Flames.
FRESH MIX: Tiesto has been involved in hit singles, but a high-charting album has always alluded the DJ. His remix of Delerium's "Silence" featuring Sarah McLachlan went as high as No. 6 on Billboard's Hot Dance Club Play chart, and another Delerium remix peaked at No. 3 on the same tally.
Three of Tiesto's own mixes have charted with Billboard or Airplay Monitor over the past three years, but of his dozen or so trance collections, none has reached any of Billboard's album charts. Until now, that is.
His latest Nettwerk Records release, the two-disc "Nyana," has spent two weeks at No. 3 on Billboard's Top Electronic Albums chart.
Tiesto, who hails from the Netherlands, toured last year as part of Moby's Area:Two festival, and played New York's Times Square on New Year's Eve. The high-profile gigs spurred advance buzz for "Nyana," which essentially tracks the DJ's career. The set pairs a number of his signature tracks alongside his well-known mixes of works by Conjure One and Junkie XL. Tiesto will be touring North America through mid-June.