A look at acts breaking at radio and retail and entering Billboard charts. This week: Pretty Girls Make Graves and Felix da Housecat.
PRETTY GIRLS ON THE MOVE: The name of the song that opens the second effort from Pretty Girls Make Graves  is "Something Bigger, Something Brighter." It's also a to-the-point description of what is the most striking difference between "The New Romance" and its predecessor.
Whereas a listener could be in and out of the band's 2002's debut "Good Health" in about 25 minutes, "Something Bigger, Something Brighter" alone stretches on for slightly more than five minutes. Here, instrumentation slowly builds, with a smattering of percussion and an oddly placed keyboard teasing rather than pummeling.
Yet before all is said and done, a pair of guitars have erupted and left skid marks around vocalist Andrea Zollo, and the rhythm has been ratcheted-up into an experimental punk frenzy. At some point during the chaos the band found the time to throw in some handclaps.
"We figured that the people who liked 'Good Health' would not like this record," bassist Derek Fudesco tells Billboard.com. "Then everyone who wrote us off as a hardcore or emo band, may actually listen to this new one and enjoy it. We had a lot of talks about it. It's a lot different. The reviews have been really hot or cold, either saying that this is so much better, or telling us that it sucks compared to the last one."
Throughout "The New Romance," the band's first effort for indie Matador Records , the group alternates between air-guitar-worthy anthems ("The Grandmother Wolf") and more offbeat, keyboard and bass driven-dirges like "Blue Lights." The Seattle five-piece, formed from the ashes of Murder City Devils and Kill Sadies, has now fleshed-out a vision that combines the art-rock tendencies of Sonic Youth and the aggression of Sleater-Kinney.
"The first record is over in about 20 minutes," Fudesco says. "It's just a bunch of ideas crammed on top on another. This one we worked out each other's ideas and elaborated on them. When you listen to the first record, sometimes there's like five different songs going on at once. It's not like this with this record. We really learned how to write with each other."
The shift in sound also marked a change in labels. "Good Health" was released by punk-heavy Lookout! Records, and just as the group's momentum on the college-rock circuit was starting to grow, Pretty Girls Make Graves switched to Matador.
"The idea of being a Matador band was really appealing to us," Fudesco says. "Some of our favorite records have come out on that label. We were getting major label offers and that never appealed to us. If we sold 100,000 records on a major, we'd be failures, but that would be an absolutely incredible number to me."
The band still has a ways to go, but "The New Romance" is off to a solid start. Since its release two weeks ago, the album has sold about 5,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album bowed at No. 18 last week on Billboard's Heatseekers chart, becoming the group's first album to appear on one of the magazine's tallies. The album also entered at No. 15 on the Independent Albums chart. To date, "Good Health" has moved about 23,000 units.
Pretty Girls Make Graves will be touring the U.S. through early December.
SCRATCHING UP THE CHARTS: Dance maven Felix da Housecat  (real name: Felix Stallings Jr.) has been at the forefront of the second wave of Chicago house music for the much of the 1990s, leading a revival of early '80s new wave that the kids on the dance circuit dubbed "electro."
His 2001 release, "Kittenz and Thee Glitz," his first for Emperor Norton Records , was a sultry dance record that was widely hailed as one of the year's best. With the seductively detached vocals of Miss Kittin, the album possessed a warmth that most house records lacked, and put Felix on the mainstream map. To date, the set has sold 31,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, but, perhaps more importantly, it lead to an opportunity to work with Madonna, for whom he remixed "Die Another Day."
In fact, Felix has been an awfully busy remixer of late. Last year, he released the electro heavy "Excursions" via PIAS America, and this year he's back with "A Bugged Out Mix," once again released through Emperor Norton. The album is a little more low-key than his recent sets and a little more '80s-obsessesed. "Bugged Out" features remixes of recent work from Ladytron, and older material from Metro Area, Anne Clark and Frankie Knuckles & Jamie Principle.
"A Bugged Out Mix" arrived last week at No. 19 on Billboard's Top Electronic Albums chart, his first album to appear on any of Billboard's tallies. Additionally, the artist has a track on the compilation set "Verve//Remixed2," which is No. 2 on the Top Electronic Albums tally for the second week in a row.
For the latter, Felix donates a remix of Nina Simone's "Sinnerman." The cut appears alongside reworkings of classics from Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Ramsey Lewis and Benny Carter. Felix is currently finishing work on his upcoming album "The Courtship of Devin Dazzle" for Emperor Norton. A release date has not been set for the new album.
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