20 Watts


ISSUE 22 | Q&A: An Interview with Portugal. The Man by 20watts

John Baldwin Gourley of Portugal. The Man sat down with 20 Watts for a nice long chat. Here's what he had to say!

Part of our Issue 22 coverage!
PREVIEW: Click to access music and more info on Portugal. The Man!

Experimental indie rockers Portugal. The Man started out in Alaska in 2004 and have since released five studio albums and played countless shows, including one at Syracuse’s Westcott Theater last year. Coming off the release of their latest album American Ghetto, Portugal. The Man frontman John Baldwin Gourley agreed to talk with 20 Watts for a nice, long Q&A session.

20 Watts: In a short amount of time, you guys have amassed a pretty impressive catalogue. Some might even make the comparison to The Beatles… What’s been your favorite album that you guys have recorded so far?

John Gourley: Well, I know this is going to sound silly but every time we go into the studio I say that I’m Continue reading



ISSUE 21 | Home Recordings: Invisible Mustache by 20watts

Syracuse natives Invisible Mustache

Part of Issue 21 coverage!

Jumbo shrimp, academic fraternity, midnight sun, boneless ribs — the definitive list of silly wordplay is always changing on us. And Syracuse-based band Invisible Mustache have contributed another.

But the contradictions don’t stop at their name: Invisible Mustache, a self-described “home studio band,” don’t make a habit of performing live, and their artistically simple songs are riddled with complicated layers. Notably, none of the four members actually Continue reading



ISSUE 21 | Reviews: Broken Bells’ Broken Bells by 20watts

20 Watts gives Broken Bells' self-titled a 15/20 watts.

Part of Issue 21 Coverage!

PREVIEW: VISIT Broken Bells’ MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 15/20 Watts

It’s hard to call Broken Bells just another “supergroup,” because the sound of their debut album is so authentic, soulful and melodically experimental. Broken Bells is made up of The Shins’ James Mercer and Gnarls Barkley’s Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton, but they’re not a match made in heaven – they just sound great together.

Even though the album drops on March 9, the group teased the world with its groovy, smooth opening track, “The High Road” on Dec. 29. The cleanly coordinated lead single may flow with the innocence of a post-Beatles Paul McCartney song, but its electronic whirs and blips resound with the sultry edge of Danger Mouse’s Gnarls Barkley influences. Continue reading



20 Watts Reviews Cold War Kids’ Behave Yourself by 20watts

Cold War Kids should take their own advice with their latest EP Behave Yourself

PREVIEW: VISIT Cold War Kids MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 8/20 Watts

It starts with a simple drum beat and Nathan Willett’s wailing voice coupled with a repeated piano line. Cold War Kids latest “soul/punk” offering Behave Yourself, released digitally towards the end of 2009 and largely overlooked, presents little in the way of soul and naught in the way of punk. Nonetheless, Cold War Kids have managed to slap together a stunning fifteen minutes of drivel in preparation for their third album, out later this year supposedly.

Much of it leads back to Nathan Willett’s voice, always trying to infuse soul and pizazz into lyrics like, “You came out from the country / Wearing momma’s clothes / You were born in the city / Daddy’s dominoes,” and typically coming up short (or, as the case may be, flat). A source of critical contention since their full-length debut, his wannabe-Jack-White drawl still provides as little satisfaction today as it did four years ago.

Not all of Cold War Kids’ problems can be blamed on their frontman though. Among the many issues Behave Yourself tackles, conservative song structure is the most prominent. Lead track “Audience of One” is piano rock at its most gratingly repetitive, less Cat Stevens and more Billy Joel. “Sermons,” an R&B disaster, soaked to the bone with religious pleading and slow instrumentation that might evoke an ominous atmosphere were it not for Willett’s overbearing words and Jonnie Russell’s heavy-handed crooning. They even ape The Beatles’ “Her Majesty” with the abruptly-ending bonus track “Baby Boy.”

If there exists one bearable song on this short record it would likely be “Santa Ana Winds.” While not strong enough to salvage the EP, it relegates Willett’s voice to the background more than the others on the record, instead allowing for crescendoing swells of percussion and crisp guitar and bass lines. Moreover Cold War Kids know not to outstay their welcome on it, dropping out at a lean 2:32.

Why are EPs released? Are they outlets for musicians to grow artistically? Can they represent more than the throwaway B-sides from an album of material? Years from now, when the tastemakers of the future visit their vintage record stores to compile some of the aughts’ great indie rock EPs – Fall Be Kind, Lon Gisland, Sun Giant, Rainwater Cassette Exchange, Friend and others — a tattered compact disc copy of Behave Yourself will undoubtedly lie at the bottom of the bin, forgotten and sold at a tenth of its original price.

– Eric Vilas-Boas



20 Watts Reviews Ringo Starr’s Y Not by irinadvalidze

Ringo Starr’s Y Not drops Jan 12th.

PREVIEW: VISIT Ringo Starr’s Official Web Page
WE GIVE IT: 12/20

Ringo Starr, a name that needs no introduction, is probably one of the hardest working musicians to date. Y Not, his 16th studio album independent of The Bealtes, features collaborations with Joe Walsh, Joss Stone, Van Dyke Parks and Ben Harper, not to mention fellow Beatle Paul McCartney.

While the album tries to explore more personal and sentimental topics from the artist’s past, it comes off more as a nostalgic revisiting of overdone arrangements and outdated melodies. The overall sound of the album feels like it got stuck somewhere in the 80s, in between the ever-popular synth keyboards and Michael Bolton’s backup sax players. This is not to say that the sound is blatantly bad, it simply feels outdated. Continue reading



The Eventual Mediocrity of Brilliant Debut Artists by cweeks88

With bands like Vampire Weekend and Arctic Monkeys making mediocre follow-up albums, will the same happen to Fleet Foxes?

Vampire Weekend just came out with a new single “Cousins” — and what a disappointing pile of shit! You’d figure that after making their debut album with so many great tunes, they’d be bound to make a more brilliant follow-up album. Unfortunately, with “Cousins” it sounds like the sun just rose on a Monday morning for this skeleton crew. To be fair, Vampire Weekend are not the only band that seem to be facing this problem. Throughout the decade a whole lot of new Indie bands with brilliant debut albums have been popping up—where they have barely been able to create a worthy-enough follow up.

The list goes on and on with bands and artists that got their big break this decade on both sides of the pond. In Britain, bands like The Libertines and Arctic Monkeys each released debut albums that were universally adored by critics and new fans alike: Up The Bracket and Whatever People Say I Am, That Is What I Am Not—the latter of which is currently the UK’s fastest-selling debut album (note:  Britain’s Got Talent star Susan Boyle recently topped this accolade with her I Dreamed a Dream album). Nevertheless, these two bands–led by the apparent songwriting genius’ Pete Doherty and Alex Turner – never seem to have been able to top their debuts with their later works. Continue reading



The 20.9: The Elephant 6 Collective by 20watts

The Elephant 6 Collective

A record label.  A collection of musicians.  An ethos.  A cult.  The Elephant 6 Collective is all that and more. Based in Athens, Ga. (after originating in Denver), and formed by Bill Doss, Will Hart, Jeff Mangum and Robert Schneider, it started out as a way to record and release their psychedelic influenced lo-fi pop. It soon spiraled and transformed, with other artists joining and band members working on each others’ albums. Eventually, it became less of a recording company than a pool of artists who shared a similar style and philosophy about making music.  And it was from this pool that some of the greatest artists of the genre’s modern era — Neutral Milk Hotel, The Apples in Stereo, of Montreal and The Olivia Tremor Control to name a few — got their start.

So what’s the very best of trip-hop? 20 Watts’ MARC SOLLINGER has the answer in our ninth 20 installment. Watch for new 20s each Thursday, only on 20 Watts, and check out our previous 20s below!


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