A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: RJD2, Opeth, Craig Morgan, and Forty Foot Echo.
A look at the latest acts that are breaking at radio and retail and entering the Billboard charts.
CUT-AND-PASTE MONSTER: Ohio-native RJ Krohn, who goes by the DJ-name RJD2, never expected his latest release to breach any of Billboard's charts. "The Horror," after all, isn't exactly full of new material, and the hip-hop collage artist meant the 10-track collection as a thank you to fans who purchased his 2002 Definitive Jux debut "Deadringer." Yet there it was, arriving last week at No. 32 on the Independent Albums chart, his first appearance on any of Billboard's tallies.
"I really just saw this as something for the completist," Krohn tells Billboard.com. "There's one new song, two new remixes, but the rest is a collection of stuff that was on B-sides and singles. We tried to load it up and do it for a cheap price. I wanted it to be better than your average tossed-off B-sides compilation, but it's not new stuff, so I wanted it to be cheap. You shouldn't pay more than $10 for it."
While Krohn considers the collection a single, the EP has suggested list price of $13.99. The new release features a bonus disc of live video footage, with Krohn mixing it up behind Definitive Jux rappers El-P, MURS, and Aesop Rock.
The title track of "The Horror" was originally featured on "Deadringer," and has become a college radio staple. Featuring air-raid sirens, monster-movie voiceovers, and dusty grooves lifted from obscure 1970s vinyl, "The Horror" represents the mid-point between DJ Shadow and cult filmmaker Ed Wood.
A recently completed tour with his labelmates brought the artist some mainstream exposure, and having "Deadringer" named as one of Spin magazine's top-40 albums of 2002 didn't hurt, either. But Krohn is ready to move on. He's fully immersed in assembling new tracks for the Definitive Jux MCs, and is concentrating on his follow-up, which he hopes to release in mid-2004.
"Most people had no idea what I did when I recorded the first album," Krohn says. "It was a chance to prove myself. For the second album, people will have a preconceived notion, so I can screw with that. I'm making an effort to completely start over. Techniques, ideas, and habits will all bleed through, but the goal I'm shooting for is a completely new approach to recording and composing songs."
MUTED METAL: When a noted death-metal band names an album "Damnation," one might expect to be in for a hellish ride. Yet Opeth's seventh album opens with jazzy rhythms, hushed vocals, and some fancy guitar handiwork that rocks about as hard as a lullaby.
Sweden's Opeth has always scattered quieter moments throughout its albums, but those brief interludes have been followed by croaked vocals and a barrage of guitars. On "Damnation," the growls and power chords never arrive.
Complex arrangements and unexpected tempo changes have elevated Opeth to death-metal's top tier, and "Damnation" certainly carries the band's epic ambitions. Lyrically, the album is a dissertation on loneliness, and musically, its atmospheric rhythms, melancholy keyboard arrangements, and late-night acoustics are the stuff of contemplation. Simply put, there won't be any head-banging to this album.
The group's third release for MFN/Koch Records is also its first to pierce The Billboard 200. "Damnation" edged onto the chart last week at No. 192. The album is the calmer companion piece to last year's "Deliverance," which was the group's first effort to chart on any of Billboard's tallies. Incessant touring, and numerous critical accolades, propelled "Deliverance" to a No. 16 debut on the Heatseekers chart.
The band is playing in the U.S. through the end of May, but if you go, bring earplugs. Opeth doesn't intend to trot out the more tranquil material until a follow-up tour later this summer.
AT YOUR SERVICE: It isn't any surprise that country radio has taken a liking to Craig Morgan. A veteran of the U.S. armed forces, Morgan routinely performs in front of his fellow servicemen. His background is reflected at the close of his sophomore album, "I Love It," with a ballad entitled "God, Family, and Country." At a time when the Nashville community is rallying behind patriotic artists, sales of "I Love It" have been steadily increasing since it was released by indie label Broken Bow in March.
His latest single, "Almost Home," is starting to find Morgan a larger audience. The song, an intriguing look into the life of a homeless man, is a burgeoning hit at country radio, and helped "I Love It" reach a new peak position of No. 24 last week on Billboard's Top Country Albums roundup. The album's success is carrying over to The Billboard 200. Two weeks ago, "I Love It" entered the big chart at No. 190, and last week it jumped nearly 20 slots to No. 171.
"Almost Home," meanwhile, was up two slots last week to No. 18 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks tally. The song has spent nearly 30 weeks on the chart, and first earned spins late last year when Morgan was on a USO tour of Afghanistan and the Middle East. He's back on these shores, and has a North American tour scheduled through the end of the summer. Updates will be posted on the artist's official Web site.
AN ECHO FROM THE NORTH: Radio embraced Forty Foot Echo's first single, "Save Me," before the act had finished recording its debut album. The cut, a slice of heartland arena rock that slowly builds to a Creed-like chorus, has been gaining spins over the past two months throughout the Midwest and East Coast. Stations in Chicago and St. Louis, in particular, have jumped on the track, and the Vancouver-based five-piece has yet to even tour the U.S.
Lead singer Murray Yates, a veteran of little-known Canadian band Templar, assembled Forty Foot Echo in early 2002. The group was born after Hollywood Records expressed interest in a demo Yates recorded with Joe Moi (Nickelback), and work on the band's self-titled debut wrapped this spring. A glossy first effort that should appeal to fans of Staind and 3 Doors Down, the album bows June 17, and features production by Jim Wirt (Incubus) and mixing by Tom Lord-Alge (Weezer).
"Save Me" has become a fixture on Billboard sister publication Airplay Monitor's Heritage Rock Tracks chart, which measures airplay at stations that feature a mix of classic and current rock. The song was up last week 30-27, and has now overtaken selections from Queens of the Stone Age, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.