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POP MUSIC | The Freshman Class of 2003

Standouts, from Danes to Detroiters and Dynamite

November 23, 2003|Robert Hilburn | Times Staff Writer

Some of the acts in this year's Freshman Class -- our annual salute to noteworthy pop newcomers -- can already sell out arenas, but most are still struggling to fill clubs. Regardless of style, they convey a strong sense of individuality and promise. The list is alphabetical.

Beyonce. Stepping away from the relative anonymity of Destiny's Child, the 22-year-old singer has shown the charisma and poise to stand out long after most of the young diva crowd has been forgotten. Album: "Dangerously in Love" (Columbia).

Detroit Cobras. Rachel Nagy's vocals recall the rockabilly flourish of Wanda Jackson and the bluesy fire of Janis Joplin, which is perfect for the Cobras' manic, fun-packed interpretations of mostly obscure R&B and pop-rock tunes. Mini-album: "Seven Easy Pieces" (Rough Trade).

50 Cent. From reading about this New Yorker, you'd think the most notable thing about him is that he has survived a shooting in which he was hit nine times, surely a gangsta rap record. But 50 Cent (Curtis Jackson) raps about the intricacies of the thug life with an urgency and drama that remind you of Tupac Shakur. Album: "Get Rich or Die Tryin' " (Shady/Aftermath/Interscope).

Gemma Hayes. The young Irish singer-songwriter's debut album is best on the gentle, melancholy, Norah Jones-like "Evening Sun," but on stage she likes to pump up the rock 'n' roll component in her music. If she can master the latter without sacrificing all the former, she could be special indeed. Album: "Night on My Side" (Astralwerks/Source).

Junior Senior. Shamelessly mixing elements from disco, punk, pop and more, the Danish duo moves from the silly zest of the B-52's in one song to the disarming charm of the Beach Boys in another. Album: "D-D-Don't Don't Stop the Beat" (Atlantic/Crunchy Frog).

Kings of Leon. At the Hollywood Palladium last month, this Southern rock quartet delivered its gothic, bittersweet looks at obsessive behavior with such explosive force and conviction that it upstaged the headlining Strokes. The influences range from Lynyrd Skynyrd to the Rolling Stones. Album: "Youth & Young Manhood" (RCA).

The Libertines. With one part Clash (Mick Jones produced their album) and one part Strokes (the hooks come fast and furious), this tuneful but intense British rock group (with Pete Doherty back after a month in jail for burglary) explores the dark side of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Album: "Up the Bracket" (Rough Trade).

Ms. Dynamite. Blessed with glorious hip-hop instincts and a strong social conscience (she's anti-drugs and anti-materialism), young Englishwoman Niomi Daley seemed ready to take over Lauryn Hill's vacated leadership role in hip-hop in the U.S. But she had to give up all promotional chores because of the birth of a baby. Maybe next year. Smart, fresh and engaging. Album: "A Little Deeper" (Interscope)

The Raveonettes. This fun-minded Danish duo tips its hat to everyone from Buddy Holly to Phil Spector, but it's delivered in an exhilarating rock-noir style that recalls the heavily distorted guitar buzz of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Album: "Chain Gang of Love" (Columbia).

The Thrills. The Dublin quintet's debut album is a near perfect pop-rock expression of youthful uncertainty and longing, all filtered through a series of California pop influences that range from the Beach Boys and Neil Young to Gram Parsons. There's an understated beauty that feels endearing and true. Album: "So Much for the City" (Virgin)

Robert Hilburn, The Times' pop music critic, can be reached at Robert.hilburn@latimes.com.

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