20 Watts

20 Watts Reviews Frightened Rabbits’ Winter Of Mixed Drinks

Frightened Rabbit manages to do some good things, with a lot of sameness as well

PREVIEW: VISIT Frightened Rabbit’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 14/20

Frightened Rabbit make anthems.  Their songs soar, rise and crescendo, coalescing in choruses that the listener is powerless not to sing along to.  Their songs are sweeping, epic and grand, cataloguing nothing but the most deeply felt emotion.  Frightened Rabbit seem incapable of writing anything without an almost obscene level of pulsating energy just below, and more frequently above, the surface of the song.  Their new album The Winter Of Mixed Drinks, is more of the same.  But, that’s not always a bad thing.

Sounding like a Scottish version of Arcade Fire, all crashing crescendos, ghostly atmospherics, and expressive vocals, The Winter of Mixed Drinks takes the self-loathing of their previous album Midnight Organ Fight, and manages to keep it entirely intact.  Scott Hutchinson, the lead singer and songwriter of Frightened Rabbit, may be the most depressing British lyricist since the glory days of Morissey, yet the band never sounds anything less than hopeful.  The credit for this belongs both to Hutchinson’s powerful, passionate delivery and the wonderful, thrilling guitars pounding along right beside him. Continue reading

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20 Watts Reviews Rogue Wave’s Permalight

Rogue Wave's Permalight does nothing to differentiate itself

PREVIEW: VISIT Rogue Wave’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 9/20

There is hardly a reason to give Rogue Wave’s new album Permalight more than a single listen. Not because the album is terrible, but rather because Permalight comes off as boring.  Mind-numbingly, ear-dullingly boring. It’s sun-drenched, synthesizer-driven indie rock, just you’ll find in a thousand car commercials.  Rogue Wave used to be an interesting part of the musical landscape; essentially a Elephant 6 band with the twee removed and a poppier sound.  Rogue Wave were never great, but they were likable enough.  But now, either in a misguided attempt to sell out (one that obviously isn’t working) or an even more misguided attempt to follow their muse, they’ve remade themselves into Death Cab For Cutie’s less talented cousin. Continue reading

20 Watts Reviews Shearwater’s The Golden Archipelago

Shearwater creates breathtaking music on The Golden Archipelago

PREVIEW: VISIT Shearwater’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 14/20 Watts

Shearwater’s sixth album, The Golden Archipelago, takes time to fully appreciate. On first listen, the album seems merely pleasant with its dense, delicate melodies washing over the listener. It’s enjoyable, but not breathtaking.  However, upon repeated listens, the album opens up. It becomes otherworldly, or perhaps more appropriately–worldly. Although not all of its lyrics are directly related to the environment, The Golden Archipelago is deeply connected to nature in a way no other album has been since Neko Case’s The Middle Cyclone. Continue reading

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20 Watts Reviews Dan Black’s Un
February 16, 2010, 10:25 am
Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: , , , , , ,

Dan Black creates enjoyable, poppy fun on Un

PREVIEW: VISIT Dan Black’s MySpace
: 14/20

Dan Black makes pop music.  With that in mind, Un is an album of pure, sugary, exuberant, pop music.  Yet it is intelligent at the same time. Un is pop you don’t have to feel guilty listening to.  And it just so happens that it’s really, really good.  No, Un is not a perfect album. It’s not even a great album. But it is one of 2010’s most fun and enjoyable recordings thus far.

The music on Un is fairly simple.  Black re-imagines contemporary hip-hop and R&B, and gives them an epic, electronic sheen. In essence it sounds as if The Postal Service listened to a lot of Jay-Z, with a little bit of jj thrown in.  There’s also a funk/dance-floor influence, especially on songs like “Yours” and “Pump My Pumps”.  But although Black does wear his influences on his sleeve, Un’s sweeping electronic arrangements, and his wonderful, perfectly pitched voice make it a breath of fresh air. Continue reading

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20 Watts Reviews The Magnetic Fields’ Realism

Listen to Magnetic Fields' Realism

PREVIEW: VISIT Magnetic Fields’ MySpace

WE GIVE IT: 17/20

The Magnetic Fields are masters of formula.  Stephin Merritt and his merry band of cohorts have a fairly simple procedure–marrying deppressing, funny and eminitably quotable lyrics sung in either Merritt’s mournful baritone or Claudia Gonson’s soprano. The beautifuly delicate, Tin Pan Alley-influenced instrumentals have been the driving force over the course of their previous eight albums, making for quite a few masterpieces along the way (69 Love Songs and The Charm Of The Highway Strip in particular should be required listening for all music fans).  The Magnetic Fields have mixed up their sound frequently, making synth-heavy pop, electronic country, shoegaze and now folk, but the essential formula remains the same. Continue reading

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20 Watts Reviews Rihanna’s Rated R
November 24, 2009, 8:34 am
Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Rihanna's new album disappoints

PREVIEW: VISIT Rihanna’s Website
WE GIVE IT: 13/20

To many, Rihanna is the resident queen of pop.  For the past three years, ever since “Umbrella,” pretty much every song she’s lent her voice to has turned to gold.

“Don’t Stop The Music”, T.I.’s “Live Your Life” and Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” all are huge hits, and more importantly, great songs.  If you only listened to the radio, you would think that Rihanna is one of the best R&B singers working today.  And, if you only judged her on the basis of her singles, you’d be right.  Her voice is emotive and expressive, and she usually works with amazing producers.  Unfortunately, Rihanna’s albums are a completely different story.  Like so many other pop stars, her records are dominated by filler, with only about three or four truly good songs. Continue reading

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20 Watts Reviews Annie’s Don’t Stop

Annie brings energy and joy to her sophomore album

PREVIEW: VISIT Annie’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 16/20 Watts

Annie is an interesting phenomenon. In almost all respects, she’s just a standard pop star, working in the mold of early Madonna. Yet, she’s still managed to attain indie credibility, the likes of which would normally be hard to come by.

Listening to her sophmore album, Don’t Stop, it’s easy to see why. Annie doesn’t do anything too differently from her dance floor contemporaries like Kylie Minogue or even Britney Spears. However, she excels by cutting out most of the filler that those similar artists are wont to include in their respective efforts. Continue reading