A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Goldfrapp, New Pornographers, Prefuse 73, and Tomahawk.
A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
GOLD RECORD: Goldfrapp's 2000 debut "Felt Mountain" was a fantastically realized collection of Massive Attack-influenced trip-hop. The U.K. duo took murky beats and melded them with baroque pop, creating a sort of futuristic cabaret that brought Broadway orchestrations to urban dance floors. The femme-fatale vocals of Allison Goldfrapp captured the seductive detachment of a Bond temptress, and heightened the duo's sci-fi atmosphere.
The album never cracked any of Billboard's charts, but the set's nightclub-ready sound, coupled with a strong word-of-mouth, helped "Felt Mountain" achieve worldwide sales of more than 500,000 copies, according to Goldfrapp's label, Mute Records. Follow-up "Black Cherry" arrived last week at No. 30 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart. It fared even better on the magazine's Top Electronic Albums tally, where it entered at No. 4.
"Black Cherry" not only marks the band's first foray onto Billboard's charts, but also a slight change in direction. The 10-track collection sees the pair shifting away from lush pop arrangements and receding deeper into an electronic environment. The album's main appeal lies in the contrast between Goldfrapp's seductively cool vocals and the computerized arrangements that dance beneath her. The electro backdrops created by Will Gregory recall both the elegance of Roxy Music and the vibrant, keyboard-enhanced dance music of Ladytron.
Tracks like "Crystalline Green" and "Strict Machine" could well be the soundtrack to the "Matrix Reloaded," while first single "Train" leans more toward Bowie-esque glam, a reference the duo's singer acknowledged in a recent issue of Billboard.
"I've always been drawn to the theatricality and fantasy element in glam rock," Goldfrapp says. "And to be honest, we wanted the album to be different. The way we look at it is we made the rules, so we can break the rules."
PORNOGRAPHIC POP: The success of Vancouver power-pop act the New Pornographers was somewhat accidental. With each of its seven members embroiled in other projects, the group began as more of a gathering of friends than a full-fledged rock'n'roll act.
The band's approach was so casual, in fact, that when its debut, "Mass Romantic" (Mint), was nominated for a Juno Award, Canada's equivalent to the Grammys, no one in the band thought to show up. The album won in the best alternative rock category.
"I was shocked," frontman Carl Newman recently told Billboard. "I turned on the TV, and 30 seconds later it was announced that we were on a list of absentee winners. We were under the assumption that if we'd won, somebody would call and say, 'You should really come to the awards.' Nobody called."
"Mass Romantic," an unabashed ode to power-pop, became a college rock staple. With the glorious vocals of country torch singer Neko Case, and keyboard flourishes filling every nook of its upbeat melodies, the New Pornographers represent indie-rock's answer to Cheap Trick. Matador Records took notice, and struck a licensing agreement with Mint to release the follow-up, "Electric Version," in the States.
"Mint has been good for us, but we needed to get on a bigger label [in the U.S.]," Newman says. "Our debut did better in the States than we had anticipated. But it might have done better if we'd had a better distribution infrastructure there."
That appears to be the case. "Electric Version" nudged its way onto The Billboard 200 last week at No. 196. On the Heatseekers chart, the album entered at an impressive No. 9. It's the first time the New Pornographers have charted in the U.S.
LIGHTING UP: Prefuse 73 is starting to ignite in the U.S. The reputation of the East Coast hip-hop producer, whose real name is Scott Herren, has been rising since he worked with Mos Def last year. For his second release on independent electronic label Warp Records, "One Word Extinguisher," Herren enlisted the vocal talents of hot rappers Mr. Lif and Diverse.
The name guests are certainly helping Herren find a larger audience. Last week, "One Word Extinguisher" arrived at No. 41 on Billboard's Top Independent Albums tally, his first appearance on any of the magazine's charts.
Herren's sophomore effort has earned him comparisons to Autechre and Aphex Twin. Herren continues to paste together oddball, computer-created fragments to construct experimental electronic rhythms. Everything in Herren's tunes serves to complement the beat, as even the vocal lines are sliced and manipulated into multiple rhythms.
It's a harsh, sometimes jarring sound -- the word "glitch" is often used to define his style in the dance community -- and "One Word Extinguisher" is filled with unexpected cadences. Yet there's always a techno-inspired thread lying beneath the chaos, providing MCs with an ambitious and challenging sonic tapestry.
IT'S A GAS: Featuring musicians who've played with the Melvins, the Jesus Lizard, Helmet, and Faith No More, Tomahawk is what anyone familiar with any of the aforementioned acts would expect: A celebration of pure noise.
Tomahawk's songs are built around the guitar work of the Jesus Lizard's Duane Denison, one of hard rock's most unheralded virtuosos. He alternates crunchy riffs with jazz-like textures, giving Faith No More/Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton an array of groove-induced tempos to rant over. The two are joined by Helmet drummer John Stanier and Melvins bassist Kevin Rutmanis. The various pedigrees of its members gives Tomahawk a built-in following.
A self-titled debut album, released in 2001 on Patton's Ipecac Recordings, peaked at No. 31 on the Heatseekers chart in late 2001. Incessant touring increased the band's fanbase, and sophomore effort "Mit Gas," which features Spanish vocals and a larger emphasis on electronics, gave the group its first entry on The Billboard 200. It arrived on the big chart last week No. 137. Tomahawk is currently on a North American tour with the Melvins.