Beelzebub Beaters, Healthy Hip-Hop, Ignition Starters, Familiar Faces, Canadian Country, And Some Not-Yet-Extinct Dodos
Each week, dozens of songs and albums from up-and-coming (or just plain unknown) bands debut on the pop charts. Some of these bands will never be heard from again; some may become the next little thing. That’s why every two weeks Chuck Eddy will be exploring the world of Billboard’s Heatseekers and Hot Shots, looking for diamonds in the MySpace rough. This week, his roster of up-and-comers tattoo-inspiring Christian metal, a song that may or may not be viral marketing for Chevrolet, and a remake of the Dream Academy’s “Life In A Northern Town.”
DEMON HUNTER Album title: Storm the Gates Of Hell, a smart place to storm if hunting demons is your military objective. Not-as-extreme-as-it-thinks-it-is metal from Seattle. A devil-goat’s skull is on the album cover, and at last count 21 friends pictured on the band’s MySpace were using some variation of the logo as a tattoo, mostly on their left shoulders. Last week the album re-entered the bottom of the Top Christian Albums chart, where it now stands at No. 43, and its title track does indeed beat Beelzebub with a baseball bat (the singer is even bearable). But the next few songs on Demon Hunter’s MySpace get too good-cop/bad-cop whiney for my heathen tastes. “SOMETIMES HOLY THINGS SOUND DIFFERENT THAT PEOPLE MAY THINK”, Stevie G observes in the comments section. “God bless you!” But in heaven, nobody can hear you sneeze.
Demon Hunter [MySpace]
GUILTY SIMPSON Not sure what he’s guilty of, but he’s from Detroit, always a rare and interesting place for rappers who don’t happen to be Caucasian to come from, and Ode To The Ghetto is this week’s No. 23 Heatseeker even though it’s apparently (according to one MySpace comment) hard to find in Chicago. In “Get Riches” he says he’s “banging that jungle music” (also listed as one of his MySpace genres), but he doesn’t sound British. Nice old-school soul and reggae and Middle Eastern samples, though. I like his jacket with all the geometric G’s on it in his video, and how his buddies are even bigger guys than he is, and how all the lyrics helpfully show up on the wall in case you didn’t catch them: “I seen harder kids in a Chuck E. Cheese,” for instance. Raps that he’d “rather take a swim with caiman,” which is a small alligator-like reptile. Lists respectable influences: Kool G. Rap, Scarface, Big Daddy Kane, plus J Dilla is one of his best MySpace friends. Sounds as nutritious as spinach and peas, which helps explain why his album is on Stones Throw.
Guilty Simpson [MySpace]
R.I.P. The song is “Keys 2 Da Chevy,” last week’s Hot Shot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs debut (at No. 72), not to mention last week’s No. 6 on the Hot Singles Sales chart. Car-starting electro beats plus, in the video, two rappers in goofy sunglasses–though, as far as I can tell, R.I.P. is just one guy, from “Ca$vhille”. There’s clearly an imminent summer dance craze involved, which begins with putting keys into your ignition. Then “lean back, lean back like you’re ridin’ in the Chevy” to the levee but the levee was dry, maybe. Cute little kid in the vid, too. If this is top-down viral marketing by Chevrolet, I’m impressed.
G.L.U.W. Entertainment [MySpace]
SUGARLAND FEATURING LITTLE BIG TOWN & JAKE OWEN OK, technically not newly charting artists, at least not when they’re on their own–Little Big Town even made my favorite album last year. But they’ve never all charted together before, and this joint venture is just too weird to ignore: the ad-hoc act entered the Country Singles chart at No. 57 last week and inches up to No. 54 this week with a frolicsome live cover of sub-Smiths British jangle trio Dream Academy’s gorgeously dreary and rainsoaked Dave Gilmour-produced new wave fop-folk hit “Life In A Northern Town” of all things, which went No. 7 pop in 1985 and nobody has given two minutes of thought to since. The same tourmates have also been encoring with Def Leppard’s glam-rap “Pour Some Sugar On Me” of late, and both Sugarland and Taylor Swift have separately been doing “Irreplaceable,” and Taylor’s also been interpreting “Umbrella” and “Lose Yourself,” but none of those redos have managed to chart. And Dream Academy aren’t exactly Rihanna or Eminem. Isn’t this song about, like, England? At least that’s how I always heard it, possibly thanks to its video, which I’ve linked to below along with one for the new version. (Wikipedia says I’m right: “The lyrics are references to Tanworth-in-Arden [England] native Nick Drake, who died of an antidepressant overdose in 1974.” Then the Wiki entry goes on to explain how Dream Academy were confused, and Tanworth-in-Arden was actually in the Midlands! None of which makes much sense to me, since the song clearly discusses the world freezing in 1963, with John F. Kennedy and the Beatles, but what the heck.) And what do Americans know about British geography, anyway? What’s next for country: “West End Girls” by the Pet Shop Boys or “Smalltown Boy” by Bronski Beat? But Celtic folk is partly what country evolved out of in the first place, and Salvation Army bands play in Northern towns in the States, too. And the Ca$hville collaborators’ harmonies and “hey ma-ma-ma-ma heeeeeyyy-yaaah”s do it justice, and I also approve of how they change “work” shutting down to the more specific “factories”. Just in time for the recession.
CRYSTAL SHAWANDA Crystal grew up on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve, on an island off the coast of Ontario, and her rich-voiced “You Can Let Go” snuck onto Hot Country Songs at No. 60 last week and this week moves up two notches, to No. 58. First verse is about learning to ride a bike, second’s about standing at the altar, third’s about her Dad dying in his hospital bed, and it is not the first country song ever to deal with those three themes, but it’ll choke people up anyway. “Try” has some Journey -style vocal drama; “Baby You’re Back” is her boogie stomp. One MySpace friend asks for help and support “from our Native communities and all of us proud Canadians”; another raves “I just saw your video on TV over the weekend. I thought…is that a native country singer? Sure enough… you are!!!!” Aboriginal CKCU in Ottawa wants to play her songs. People are excited, and they should be.
Crystal Shawanda [MySpace]
THE DODOS In his excellent 1996 book The Song of the Dodo, science essayist David Quammen attributes the dodo’s circa-1667 extinction at least partially to what he calls “ecological naïveté”; i.e., the species had rarely faced predators on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, so when first the Portuguese and later the Dutch arrived, the big-bootied birds were too trusting to put up a struggle. Though their basically unboilable meat was often dismissed as “disgusting,” Quammen laments that “tough or tender, the dodo was never quite disgusting enough for its own good.” Anyway, the songs of these surviving San Francisco-based Dodos sound considerably less interesting. The duo’s Visiter entered Heatseekers at No. 43 last week and this week jumps to No. 31; Pitchfork gave it an 8.5, claiming they’re innovators of “campus-quad pop, art-punk, and communal, lo-fi folk,” but all I hear are your usual timid indie twerps aiming for anthemic but settling on anorexic. Primary downfall is the vocals, which show less life than the intermittently percolating instrumental parts–the beginning of “Jodi” has some ’70s Who in it, though not as much as “Rich Kid Blues” by the Raconteurs. The Dodos’ MySpace calls their genre “happy hardcore.” How droll.
The Dodos [MySpace]