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20 Watts Reviews Minus the Bear’s OMNI by JohnCassillo
May 4, 2010, 10:17 am
Filed under: Releases of the Week | Tags: , , ,

Minus the Bear's OMNI is a successful electronic experiment

PREVIEW: VISIT Minus the Bear’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 16/20 Watts

Minus the Bear have always been associated with experimentation. The electronic trysts of their past records are some of the various aspects that allowed them to stand out in the oh-so-crowded indie rock scene of the past decade. But now, as they return with their first record since 2007, the landscape surrounding them has changed dramatically. No longer the novelty they appeared as in 2002, the band seems threatened with being relegated to a status of white noise. Good thing that they refuse to be labeled as such.

OMNI, the band’s fourth album, is as adventurous a front as the band has ever presented. Rather than produce electronic-laced indie rock, we see a much different turn– rock-laced electronic experimentation. The change is apparent from the first few bars of opener “My Time,” setting the tone for an album full of moody, synth-heavy bouts with emotion. Yes, guitars are present, especially for solo work on tracks like “Secret Country” and “Hold Me Down.” But for the most part, the sprawling chords splay themselves out behind dreamy keyboards and surprising uses of Auto-Tune (see “Summer Angel”). Continue reading

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Editor’s Pick #302: The Fly’s Come Take Flyt EP by 20watts
April 30, 2010, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Editor Picks, Emerging Artists, Releases of the Week, Scene Around Town | Tags: ,

The Fly's first EP "Come Take Flyt" dropped today on Bandcamp. It's more than you might think

PREVIEW: VISIT The Fly’s Bandcamp and download “Come Take Flyt”

So let’s get this out of the way from the start. I really dig these guys. I’ve seen them live multiple times and I think they’re both really energetic and more creative than a lot of mainstream groups out there. That said, when Keith Smith mentioned to me that The Fly would be putting out their first EP on May 30, I thought that it would be five songs and no longer than 20 minutes. Shame on me.

Come Take Flyt clocks in at 12 tracks and 40 minutes. It’s produced by Keith Smith and showcases their best live tracks in a professional, definitive form. Above all, it could be an album in its own right, which is unbelievably refreshing. It might actually be too produced. The raw energy of their live tracks translates nicely through female vocalist Farasha Baylock’s crystal-clear Continue reading

20 Watts Reviews B.o.B.’s The Adventures of Bobby Ray by 20watts
April 27, 2010, 10:05 am
Filed under: Releases of the Week, Uncategorized

20 Watts Reviews B.o.B.'s The Adventures of Bobby Ray

WE GIVE IT: 16/20 Watts

Bobby Ray, better known by his moniker B.o.B., finally released his first studio album after almost three years of anticipation. The Adventures of Bobby Ray is an introduction to the life and diverse musical style of B.o.B. With this debut, Bobby Ray ushers in the new wave of hip-hop by pulling from various musical genres. Since 2007, B.o.B. has been working with a variety of big names including Hayley Williams, T.I. and Lupe Fiasco. Such an impressive guest list demonstrates Bobby Ray’s ambitious strive towards being more than just another Atlanta rapper.

After six mix-tapes worth of dabbling, Adventures shows B.o.B.’s take on synthesizing rock and pop styles with traditional hip-hop. The album’s first single, “Nothin’ on You,” features Bruno Mars and yields perhaps the most Top 40 appeal of any track on the album. Adventures’ rock influence comes from collaborations with Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo and Paramore’s Hayley Williams. Williams makes two appearances on Adventures on “Airplanes” and the track’s sequel. Eminem joins in on “Airplanes Pt. 2,” creating a peculiarly effective synergy between rock and rap.

“Magic” best exemplifies B.O.B.’s sense of innovation in terms of giving rap-rock a new wrinkle that retains accessibility. While such collaborations do not always satisfy past the point of their novelty, (Lil’ Wayne and Weezer’s “Can’t Stop Partying”), B.o.B.’s willingness to take chances on his debut album shows that Bobby Ray is looking for longevity. Other collaborations with T.I. (“Bet I”), Lupe Fiasco (“Pass My Shades”) and Janelle Monae (“The Kids”) prove that B.o.B. has already established clout in the music industry.

Adventures tackles topics from pollution (“The Kids”) to superficiality in Hollywood (“Fame”) all while intimately getting to know Bobby Ray. B.o.B. confirms that, though he might be reppin’ the ATL, he is not looking to be classified among the likes of Big Boi and Andre 3000. His debut certainly surpasses its long-standing hype with an early release that’s well worth it’s merit.

-Dana Rose Falcone

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20 Watts Reviews Horse Feathers’ Thistled Spring by ambiguitron
April 20, 2010, 10:00 am
Filed under: Releases of the Week, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

20 Watts reviews Horse Feathers' Thistled Spring

PREVIEW: VISIT Horse Feathers’ MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 11/20 Watts

One would hope that an album entitled “Thistled Spring” would have at least have a few sharp edges to set it apart from the majority of today’s indie-folk. Unfortunately, Portland’s Horse Feathers – unfittingly named after the satirical 1932 Marx Brothers film – end up homogenized within the soft auditory mush of their contemporaries with little to set them apart in any notable way.

It’s not to say that Horse Feathers are incompetent or even mediocre when it comes to song-writing. In fact, a major merit of the band is that they avoid the trap of lazily marginalizing the use of “traditional” folk instruments. Unlike groups whose uses of the mandolin and banjo are limited to peripheral texturing, Horse Feathers get technically impressive and smoothly arranged melodies out of these demanding string instruments. The banjo and string parts on “Starving Robins” and “Cascades” pose a challenge to any hipster who’s ever attempted to pluck a few half-assed chords on his dad’s Gibson.

Additionally, the interchanges between which instruments carry the bulk of the melody are sufficiently varied song by song in such a way that benefits both the album’s control of dynamics and mood. Where “Belly of June” contains the album’s most directly ecstatic moments and “The Widower” slumps into minor-key ambiguity, the strings and guitar adjust accordingly. The problem is that variation of any kind on the album stops after this. The swells are competent but forumulaic. The interludes follow a similarly predictable formula. Justin Ringle’s sub-Sufjan whinging completes this lukewarm assembly of elements, leaving the album feeling like a collection of amateur watercolor paintings – individually competent, but collectively bland and unspectacular.

Horse Feathers are above-average in their instrumental proficiency. However, they do not break any ground within the realm of contemporary folk – a genre whose dependency on formula is just as bad as any Top 40 electro-thumping. In conclusion, “Thistled Spring” is a passable but predictable burp on the organic woodgrain screen of the indie-folk radar.

-Dan Powell

20 Watts Reviews Flying Lotus’s Cosmogramma by jluposello

20 Watts Reviews Flying Lotus's Cosmogramma

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

Experimental electro-producer and musician Steve Ellison, aka Flying Lotus, has made quite a name for himself as an innovator of a genre often left untouched by modern electronic artists. With two stellar releases prior to this most recent effort, Ellison has lain the foundation for yet another groundbreaking release. This manifests in the form of the highly rewarding Cosmogramma.

Featuring guest appearances from the likes of Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu, Ellison’s star-studded record is overwhelming in a delightfully peculiar way. In the brief yet wildly dense tracks, Ellison warps sound waves into forms that will intrigue and please any fan of his own inimitable brand of electronica.

On Yorke’s track, “…And the World Laughs With You”, listeners encounter a coarsely distorted synth line accented by a swirling, industrial-sounding beat, an abrasive yet effective motif that is consistent throughout the record. Yorke’s distinctive vocals enhance the track’s emotional signature.. The way that the track manages to chart such a varying course of emotions and dynamic ranges parallels the album perfectly, giving first-time listeners a good idea of what FlyLo is all about.

On tracks such as “Do the Astral Plane”, FlyLo steers away from his penchant for the uber-distorted and instead creates something unexpected yet fittingly subtle that demonstrates his versatility as an artist. Its arrangements are bound to tickle the fancy of any Toro Y Moi fans, myself included.

An unfortunate side of FlyLo’s style is that it thrives on brevity. Most of the tracks run their course in well under 2 minutes. This may prove unappealing to fans who are keen on duration. Demanding listeners may misinterpret it as a lack of maturity in the tracks,  potentially painting the cuts as simple pieces of studio experimentation.

FlyLo brings an impressively mature sound to the table and continues to break ground in the genre of today’s electronica with Cosmogramma. The album’s potential to overwhelm in terms of both aesthetics and guest appearances make it a notable release, albeit a brief one.

-John Luposello

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20 Watts Reviews The Radio Dept.’s Clinging To A Scheme by jluposello
April 20, 2010, 10:00 am
Filed under: Releases of the Week, Uncategorized | Tags: ,

20 Watts Reviews The Radio Dept.'s Clinging To A Scheme

PREVIEW: VISIT The Radio Dept.’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 13/20 Watts

Since their beginnings in 1995, The Radio Dept. have been known for being slow to produce new albums. With their fifteen-year-old discography consisting of a mere three full length releases, the Swedish shoegazers could be described as patient, if nothing else

Clinging to a Scheme is a model example of over-perfection and its consequences. The album exists largely as an effort both over-thought and over-ambitious. This impacts the record negatively, giving it a sound that is neither inventive nor genre-challenging.

That’s not to say all listeners will be alienated by the album’s aspect. The tracks on aren’t necessarily bad, but there aren’t any truly outstanding moments on the record that come to mind when thinking of the work as a collective whole. Tracks such as the opener, “Domestic Scene”, come and go quietly, following a dynamic-shy formula that seems to be all too tried-and-tested in today’s indie scene.

Shorter efforts such as “Four Months in the Shade”  are passable as musical interludes, but The Radio Dept. comes up noticeably short even in that sense. Its lack of consistency and musical maturation causes it to feel more like a half-hearted pit-stop than a thoughtfully-placed interlude.

Tracks like “David” allude to a faint possibility of original sonic direction. The issue is that The Radio Dept. approaches these detours through the unexpected only to shy away on them, preferring the main road of conventionality –  densely textured but blandly orchestrated in form.

As the album draws to a close on “You Stopped Making Sense”, the record feels to have gone almost nowhere in its 35-minute duration. While the album may be enough for glazy-eyed, shoegazing audiences, it’s hardly enough to satiate the appetite of  even a casually demanding listener – especially one conscious of the extensive wait it took to produce the album. Sadly, “Clinging to a Scheme,” fulfills its title in the most disappointingly literal way possible, fixated on the same sonic tropes without considering that some newer scheme might be better worth clinging to.

-John Luposello

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20 Watts Reviews Caribou’s Swim by dana20watts
April 20, 2010, 10:00 am
Filed under: Releases of the Week, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

20 Watts Reviews Caribou's Swim

PREVIEW: VISIT Caribou’s MySpace
WE GIVE IT: 15/20 Watts

Daniel Victor Snaith’s ninth release as Caribou is an unpredictable synthesis of electronic and tribal sounds. Although Swim is a short album of just nine songs, the long tracks contain stories of Caribou’s struggle with divorce, old age and loneliness. While the lyrics are vague, they offer an in-depth look at Snaith’s creative process. The use of unexpected instruments complements the mix.

Swim shows that Snaith completely defies any musical self-restraint he may have had in the past. The album starts off with “Odessa,” a funky yet mystical calamity of soft lyrics that describe a strong, independent “alpha woman.” The track combines a jungle sound with an electronic breakdown, setting a precedent for the unusual style combinations that last for Swim’s entire duration. The album shows off more curious rhythmic tendencies on  “Bowls,” with a tune  reminiscent of African tribal music. Tibetan singing bowls and a prominent bass line fortify the track’s sound.

“Hannibal” is perhaps the strongest example of the metamorphosis Caribou has chosen to undergo on Swim. Where the track starts off with a sense of joy unbecoming to the titular serial killer, its ending bears a moodily sonic resemblance to the Peter and the Wolf recessional. “Hannibal” is an erratic battle between a cheery melody and an abrasive symphony that is Odyssean in its nature. The contrast suggests that Snaith may still be torn between his musical identities.

Swim ends with Caribou questioning his purpose on earth with “Jamelia,” a track that features Luke Lalonde of Born Ruffians. While the latter end of the Snaith’s latest album seems like musical chaos, Swim has a greater sense of coherence than Caribou’s last two albums—Andorra and Up in Flames. This album shows Snaith’s skill in transcending his formerly boisterous style, exploring moods and tones for other seasons besides Spring.

-Dana Rose Falcone

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