Four artists to watch in 2004

Beau Miller

Only four years into this century and popular music has already begun to distance itself from the last. The limelight has passed over boy bands and bubblegum pop, leaving the prettiest faces to launch solo careers and be featured in McDonald’s commercials. Meanwhile, the stage has been set for the guitar to make its comeback by artists such as the White Stripes, Jack Johnston, and John Mayer.

This year will be a transitional year for music in that it will see new waves of emerging artists paving the way for what is commonly known as “the next big thing.” All the while, yesteryear’s news will be sitting at home, talking about the week they cracked the top 40, and still waiting for MTV’s “Cribs” to call. New talent is appearing faster than MTV’s or music magazines can cover. So in an effort to provide a look into what the future of music holds, here are four acts whose names you may want to remember.

Rooney- This band literally has “California” written all over it. Their album cover is actually the state flag with the band’s name on it. With a sound reminiscent of the Beach Boys that can only come from a prolonged exposure to the scent of salt water and whatever else is in the air out there on there West Coast, Rooney has been making waves with it’s self-titled debut album and a recent appearance on Fox’s hit drama “The O.C.” A squad of five, Rooney brings two things not seen in most popular rock bands for quite some time: a drummer doing vocals, and, dare I say, a keyboardist. Together, they produce a sound that is refreshingly retro, and enjoy a catalog of songs describing the perceived immortality of youth, the decline of pop star “killers of rock and roll,” and their respect for the early-1990’s fashion fad known as Daisy Dukes.

Regina Spektor- Soviet-born and Bronx-raised, Regina Spektor has been floating around New York’s Lower East Side playing in small clubs with a piano and lyrics that poetically describe the emotions invested in big city living, With three self-released records and a recent European tour under her belt, she has combined her years of classical piano with poetry and is just now beginning to make a ripple in music scenes outside of New York City. At first, Spektor’s lyrics can deceive audiences by having her appear naOve and vulnerable, but in continuing to listen it becomes apparent that Regina brings experience and art as her albums have a tendency of coming in like a lamb and going out like a lion.

Damien Rice- From the Emerald Isle comes Damien Rice, the man any guy who has ever tried to woo a girl via guitar can take a note from. Largely alone on his acoustic guitar, but sometimes backed by cello, bass, or female vocals, Rice sings of love that has come, love that has gone, and just about every emotion that is a cause or result of it. Mournful and romantic, Rice can also weave Irish wit into an otherwise depressed song, leaving audiences catching themselves with a smile as he sings of the pain known only to a man in love. And in case the guitar and Irish accent wasn’t enough to make your girlfriend leave you for him, Rice joins his accompaniment in singing part of one song entitled “The Professor” in almost flawless French. Impressed yet?

Rice has recently been featured in “Rolling Stone” as 10% of an “artists to watch” story, and this spring will embark on a two month U.S. tour that will land him in both Boston and New York City. His most recent album is entitled “O”.

The Darkness- After taking their native Britain by storm, The Darkness may require a bit of an open mind for American audiences. Sporting unitards and armed with a hard rock sound behind the falsetto voice of lead singer Justin Hawkins, The Darkness is somewhat of a combination of rockers AC/DC and Queen. MTV has recently aired the video for their single “I Believe in a thing called Love,” which features the band’s spaceship being taken over by a gigantic squid. It is truly a sight too odd to be missed. The song “Love is Only a Feeling” is a rock ballad straight out of the hair band days of the 1980’s.

Despite their comical appearances, The Darkness is serious, and so is the level of buzz surrounding them. In addition to a video on MTV, MTV 2 has recently broadcasted a televised concert. Their debut album “Permission to Land” has been reviewed and featured in articles in just about every major music magazine. This year, it will be interesting to see if The Darkness can win over the hearts and minds of American audiences, or if this band from across the pond will be forced to build their empire on their own side of the Atlantic.