EVEN NOSTRADAMUS wouldn’t have been able to predict the strange twists and turns popular music has taken, and often record company A&R people have an equally difficult time agreeing on or predicting the trends that can make or break a company, artists or their own careers.

Though it’s long been proven that what goes around comes around, apparently several labels aren’t willing to wait for good old rock ‘n’ roll to come back into vogue. The list of bands that have recently been released from their deals includes Faster Pussycat, Love/Hate, Junkyard, Little Caesar and theatrical rock band Mozart, whose SBK debut was recorded but never released.

Yet no one is yet sure what will emerge to take its place, according to several A&R reps.

“There are a lot of new trends: the scene in L.A., at least, isn’t really focused,” says A&M Records A&R representative Pierre Vudrag. “For a while, obviously, everyone was inundated with the grunge thing, but now I see more of a folky, acoustic sound coming up.”

This year, A&M has signed two L.A.-area acts: singer/songwriter Jeanette Katt and metal band Damn the Machine.

If the critics and fans concur, it would seem aggressive music of any genre is moving to the forefront: The industrial-tinged buzz of Ministry and Nine Inch Nails, and the lyrically and musically hardcore attack of groups like Rage Against the Machine, Tool, Helmet and even Body Count are attracting droves of youthful tastemakers to their shows.

Gary Helsinger, who works in talent acquisition at Chrysalis Music Publishing , says lately he’s heard “nothing new. Styles are all over the place. Next year we might see more industrial music charting, and the trend is toward ‘live’ bands, like Blind Melon (a Capitol Records act). I see them playing forever and building a following. I also see a backlash against MTV.”

Giant Records A&R rep Kevin Moran observes: “The bands that used to copy Guns N’ Roses are now copying Nirvana.”

Though most admit the post-Nirvana frenzy has died down, Atlantic picked up San Diego-based but Northwestern-sounding Stone Temple Pilots, and Seattle dwellers Sweetwater. And the hotly pursued Candlebox is another Emerald City band ready to ink with a major.

For her part, Mercury’s Cheri Cheng believes the “honest, real, out-of-desperation” rock pioneered by many indie bands will continue to thrive.

On the West Coast, Morgan Creek A&R rep Matthew Aberle still sees a lot of demo tapes that are “harder, but with a melodic edge,” and says he’s noticing a wealth of talent emerging from Boston and San Diego.

GASOLINE ALLEY Records, the joint venture label between managers Arnold Stiefel and Randy Phillips and MCA, has hit big with Shai’s first single, “If I Ever Fall in Love,” which has moved 1.4 million units in its first six weeks, making it one of the year’s biggest hits.

Shai, whose name is an Egyptian term meaning “personification of destiny,” is Garfield Bright, Marc Gay, Carl “Groove” Martin and Darnell Van Rensalier, who met while attending Howard U.

The group pooled $ 100 to create a demo of “If Ever I Fall in Love” and sent it to a Washington, D.C., radio station. When WPGC played the song on a local music show, the response earned the R&B quartet a place on the station’s regular playlist, setting into motion a series of events that led to the act’s signing to Gasoline Alley.

Shai’s a capella version of the single was serviced to MTV, which had an exclusive on the clip. But the label also created a version with music that was serviced to vid outlets the Box and Black Entertainment Television, allowing the band to continue to build momentum during the MTV exclusivity window.

Since Gasoline Alley’s bow a year and a half ago, the label has signed eight acts but has released only Shai and Inglewood-based rap act the Brotherhood Creed, whose single “Helluva” sold close to 300,000 units, per Phillips.

Third release will be from rock act the Beauties, whose music is described by Phillips as “a cross between Traffic, Led Zeppelin and Cat Stevens.” The disc will be out Jan. 25.

TWO OF ATLANTIC/Nashville’s hits will be featured on the ABC show “Life Goes On.” Tracy Lawrence’s single “Somebody Paints the Wall” and Neal McCoy’s “Now I Pray for Rain” will be the first country songs aired on the show in its five seasons. … Morgan Creek Records has launched its first foray into catalog development, reissuing two early recordings by Miracle Legion. “Glad” and “Me & Mr. Ray” will be out on CD in February. … Capitol recording artist Hammer has launched a new entertainment corporation, Roll-Wit-It Entertainment, that will negotiate recording, film and video deals with major companies. A division also will handle record producers and video directors, and the company will deal in personal and sports management.

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