the new what's next
Music never stands still; every year produces a new crop of fresh faces eager for stardom, or at least a modest level of appreciative acceptance. Below are some of the new (or newish) faces The Onion A.V. Club believes should demand such attention..
Key release: Black Dialogue (2005)
After wowing the hip-hop underground with a politically charged concept EP (Emergency Rations) followed by an even more ambitious concept album (I Phantom), Definitive Jux's Mr. Lif joined forces with rapper and fellow Bostonian Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One to form The Perceptionists. After a triumphant slot touring with labelmate Murs last year, The Perceptionists released Black Dialogue, a thoughtful, eclectic, cohesive gem with an explosive single in the incendiary anti-war anthem "Memorial Day."
Mr. Lif on the "political" tag: "I'm just not into tags, period. I don't think tags mean anything. They just help people put expectations on what they're going to get from an artist. As soon as I get a tag, all I'm going to do is the opposite. We knew going into this that people were going to expect us to be the new Public Enemy, and that's the last thing we want to be. Because you know what? I watch Aqua Teen Hunger Force and The Brak Show, and when I'm hanging out with my friends, we laugh all the time, and we drink beer sometimes."
On being compared to John Coltrane by Chuck D: "[It was] one of the most amazing things in my life, straight up. When I was 14 and working under the table at this place, I'd play It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back all day long, flipping it over and over on some Radio Raheem shit. I never imagined back then I'd even meet Chuck D, let alone have him come to my show and say something like that."
ariel pink's haunted graffiti
Key releases: The Doldrums (2004), Worn Copy (2005)
Hometown: Los Angeles
Home-recording nut Ariel Rosenberg has recorded more than 50 albums since he started fiddling with his stereo at age 15. Last year, the experimental pop group Animal Collective gave Rosenberg's 2001 collection The Doldrums–his first under the moniker Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti–an "official" release, and after the disc awed fans of outsider art, the Collective's Paw Tracks label bought the rights to Ariel Pink's 2003 collection Worn Copy. The new release is more accomplished and accessible, if those words apply to '70s-styled pop songs that sound like that they've been bouncing off satellites for 30 years on an increasingly degraded signal.
On his muddy echo: "The sound complements the songwriting. I don't believe that a good song is a good song. A bad song can be a great song if it's given the right production. And vice versa."
On being represented to the public by work completed years ago: "It's always in the past, regardless of how recent. When I finish a record, it's over and done. But I want to be put in the situation where I have a budget for an upcoming album, and then I sit down and do it. Right now, people seem to be interested in stuff I've already done, because there's no risk involved in what the outcome might be."
On becoming a cult hero: "I'm a music dork. I grew up with MTV and all that shit. I've worked at record stores. I'm the equivalent of a Jeopardy nerd or a Trekkie, but with rock 'n' roll. I eat everything up, man. I used to write lists, all through high school, and eventually I just kind of joined the list. It's worked out better than I imagined. To do The Doldrums and think that it's competing in a marketplace with, like, Modest Mouse–it's perverse. It's wonderful."
Key release: Always Never Again (2005)
Hometown: New York/Washington D.C.
A rock band charged by an ear for wiggling electronics and an eye cast toward the world beyond rock, Supersystem was known as El Guapo before changing its name–and, to a certain degree, its sound. The frenetic fusion on Supersystem's new Always Never Again falls in line with the current swell of dance-minded rock, but its weird movements and dashing quasi-African guitar designs are all its own.
Guitarist Rafael Cohen on the name change: "There's another El Guapo based in Chicago. They have a Budweiser sponsorship, and they've done some commercials for McDonald's. They're awful; they sound like Blink-182, but with Spanish lyrics."
On the new record: "From a production standpoint, we were looking to be more thorough and attentive, to use the studio more to arrange the songs. When you're dealing with drum machines and things like that, it can get really robotic, so you have to do more in terms of bringing things in and out and affecting the way things sound to make it all more interesting."
On the African influence: "We all listen to stuff from all over the world. As a guitar player, you want to do something interesting, and I didn't want to play scratchy, atonal post-punk guitar. I don't put on Gang Of Four records ever, so why would I play guitar like the guy in Gang Of Four? Whereas I do put on Ethiopiques records all the time."
Key releases: Primitive Plus (2002), Beauty And The Beat (2005)
On his wildly anachronistic debut Primitive Plus, rapper-producer-DJ-musician Edan bursts with a sense of promise and potential that his recently released follow-up Beauty And The Beat fulfils. Not only bigger but better, the fat-free CD–which features special guests Insight, Percee P, and Mr. Lif–combines Edan's fetish for super-scientific flows with trippy neo-psychedelic production: Imagine Rakim sitting in with some of the Nuggets series' raucous garage bands.
On the philosophy behind combining rap and rock: "I actually enjoy the feeling of being overwhelmed with the breadth and the depth that there is in life. It just reminds me of being in the womb, and seeing things for the first time, and feeling that overwhelming sort of strange delight. I like seeing things that way. Whereas most people want to put things in compartments and minimize that overwhelming feeling, putting shit into a pop category or a smooth-jazz category. But I like to smash all that and try to take it all in at once."
On his love of retro: "I just constantly need affirmation that the human race is something to be proud of. Anything in its early stages will be both experimental and pure. It's a matter of the vitality of any genre while it's still pretty much insular and not a huge corporate product. I don't even know what the Golden Age is. The challenge is to look at all of history as a golden age."
drag the river
Key releases: Closed (2002), Hey Buddies... (2004)
Hometown: Fort Collins, Colorado
While alt-country acts popped up everywhere during the genre's peak popularity in the late '90s, they were often heavily ironic, like "Isn't it funny we're playing country music?" But Drag The River lacks any trace of irony in its tales of hard drinking, failure, and occasionally redemption. The lack of irony may be even more surprising, considering that the band is composed of five punk rockers, notably singer-guitarists Chad Price (formerly of All) and Jon Snodgrass (Armchair Martian). A new full-length and extensive touring are planned for later this year.
Snodgrass on going from punk to country: "The funny answer I like to say is once we started doing it, and we realized how much smaller amps were, that was the thing for us."
On mainstream country: "We listen to it all the time when we're on tour. Well, because it comes through the speakers better, and it doesn't hurt our ears so bad. Chad's the one that always says, 'This is just horrible!' but I still like listening to it."
On alt-country's declining "hip" factor: "I think it's a big circle. All music is on the rise and the decline constantly. I remember hearing somebody say it's like every 10 years. I definitely don't like being called an 'alt-country' band, because I don't think that's what we are. I mean, it depends on what song you listen to, and it depends on what night you see us play live."
united state of electronica
Key release: U.S.E. (2005)
A big rock band owing to Daft Punk and what sounds like an almost dangerous sugar habit, United State Of Electronica plays party anthems full of vocoder voices, glistening synths, and spangly house beats. U.S.E. started as a hometown phenomenon, but word has spread by way of bloggers and converted concertgoers who sing praise when they catch their breath after dancing.
Guitarist Jason Holstrom on the beginning: "We just started jamming together and goofing off, letting loose. It sort of morphed into these house-oriented party tracks. It took off from there, because it was just so fun, so raw and freeing to be able to use humor in music and just have fun."
On the draw of dance music: "We were all freaking out over Daft Punk's Discovery, Underworld, Sasha, Paul Oakenfold. We started checking out the four-on-the-floor beat, which was kind of a new thing for us. And then Basement Jaxx comes through town with that live-posse madness they have. Electronic music definitely comes into play, but the way we end up presenting it all is in a rock format."
On near-pathological happiness: "It's a reaction to what Seattle has been, or even what music has been, for a long time: self-focusing music, or music that talks about problems or strife. For U.S.E., we wanted to make something for everyonekids and grandparents, hipsters and college kidssomething that can be joyous and positive."
Key releases: Bloc Party (2004), Silent Alarm (2005)
The British hype machine can be a double-edged sword: Nine out of 10 saviors of rock end up back at the chip shop, telling stories about almost headlining Brixton Academy. Bloc Party is the unusual band that greets the hyperbole with some of its own: The band's debut full-length, Silent Alarm, is one of this year's best. Wiry and gentle by turns, it gives the stolid tone of dance-punk a warm-blood transfusion.
Matt Tong on being the rare drummer who gets lots of attention: "We've always had a solid rhythmic edge to what we've done. With a lot of bands, the drums are sort of ignored. That's why people notice the drums [on our records]; they're more of a cohesive element rather than backing."
On the stress of newfound popularity: "When you suddenly become really busy, you don't know how much you can do until you reach a brick wall. I think we're starting to realize what we're capable of doing now. It's just a question of balancing it all, really."
On the future: "We've got roughly 20 new songs in various stages of completion. We'd like to start working on a new album at this time next year. The problem with getting so busy is that you never have time to write, so we spend whatever time we do have just trying to get ideas down."