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ISSUE 19 | The Lo Life: Low fidelity music is sweeping the campus — and the nation by 20watts

Devon Stewart rocks the Shaefer studios while working on his self-titled solo project

Lil Wayne. Kanye West. Maroon 5. Rascal Flatts. Music purists loathe them for at least one reason — Auto-Tune, a downloadable audio processor that corrects vocal and instrumental blunders in order to attain perfect pitch. By using this program, a producer can fill in a recorded performance’s holes, smooth its edges and polish its smudges.  Everyone must use this to attain musical nirvana, right? Negatory. In fact, musicians that admire large holes, adore peculiar edges, and worship pesky smudges are alive, well and plentiful. They are lo-fi artists.

Lo-fi is a shortened form of “low-fidelity,” fidelity meaning the extent to which an electronic device such as a radio or television can accurately reproduce a sound or an image. Taken literally, lo-fi can be defined as low-quality sound. Continue reading


ISSUE 19 | Making Wavves by 20watts

Nathan Williams fronts the acclaimed lo-fi act Wavves

Lo-fi isn’t just a trend on campus — it’s also scoring airtime across the country. Here are some of our favorite lo-fi bands you owe it to yourself to check out:

With ironic song titles like “Summer Goth” and fuzz bleeding from their amps, it’s hard not to love Wavves. Who cares if frontman Nathan Williams is practically a junkie? Despite public humiliation and broken wrists, Williams still played shows this summer.

No Age
With three EPs and a debut in 2007, another full-length last year and an EP just last month, No Age are one of the busiest bands currently making high-quality lo-fi. They’ve mastered the art of drowning infectious riffs and power chords in layers of distortion.

Crystal Stilts
Crystal Stilts factor fuzzy guitars and brooding post-punk into a formula all their own. Despite being together since 2003, the band only released their full-length debut Alight of Night last year.

Times New Viking
Formed in 2005, the raucous Times New Viking have dropped four acclaimed albums, including one this year. Born Again Revisited emphasizes accessible pop structures amidst fits of noise.

Girls’ frontman Christopher Owens grew up in a cult, lost his brother and watched his mom literally sell herself for the cause. His solution? Get high, start a band and sing about heartbreak with such remarkable optimism that even the critics were moved.

— 20 Watts Staff

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Going Lo-Fi: One writer’s thoughts on a blossoming genre (or fad?) by crumblymuffin
November 2, 2009, 5:33 am
Filed under: Features, Issue 19, Issue 19 Lofi | Tags: , , , , , ,

Going lo-fi

After all the hype, rants, raves and “Pitchforkery,” I finally took the plunge and caught a Wavves one night at Bowery Ballroom. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I wouldn’t say I was a Wavves fan, but I’d heard his latest album and was impressed. So his appearance with Woods and Real Estate was definitely enough to persuade me into a ticket purchase. It was, suffice it to say, a perfect sampling of the lo-fi craze that’s got the blogs in a frenzy and musicians everywhere turning to GarageBand instead of a recording studio, so I dove in.

However, what struck me at the show wasn’t the tape hiss, or hollowed-out vocals or even the rough-shod guitar lines. It was the songcraft. Real Estate and Woods both opened the show with phenomenally impressive sets. The songs were beautiful, removed from the hazy basements that their records call to mind, and thrust into a setting that let them breathe, opening up the full tonality of the guitars and allowing the sheer power of volume to fatten the sound. Woods were especially awesome, with flamethrower solos and equally tender bits (“The Number” may be my favorite song of the year) that made them sound like the pop band they should be seen as. Continue reading

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ISSUE 19 | How To: Record Your Own Lo-Fi by 20watts
November 2, 2009, 5:02 am
Filed under: Issue 19 | Tags:
20W November 2009 Final_22_picnik

Make your own lo-fi!

  1. Use old equipment. Lo-fi depends on a D.I.Y. ethic and — literally — subpar sound. Invest in one or two Starcasters by Fender (famed for their inability to stay in tune), and maybe a drum kit. An old Casio keyboard wouldn’t hurt either.
  2. Buy lots of tapes … or a MacBook Pro. Chances are that you’re going to screw up a lot. Moreover, history shows that to win real indie cred, you have to either distribute cassettes personally or advertise Apple at every show you play.
  3. Write short songs. Most people don’t want to listen to a no-name wailing into feedback for 10 minutes. Leave the long-winded, trebly soundscapes to My Bloody Valentine — your listeners will love you for it.
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20 Watts Issue 19 | November 2009 by 20watts


Artists in the Issue


Pop Art

The Ithaca Sound


Playlist copy

20 Watts Reviews Daniel Johnston’s Is and Always Was by Eric Vilas-Boas
Daniel Johnston's return to independent music soars on the strength of hi-fi production

Daniel Johnston's return to independent music soars on the strength his songwriting and hi-fi production

PREVIEW: DOWNLOAD Daniel Johnston’s “Tears” MP3
WE GIVE IT: 17/20 Watts

Daniel Johnston — literally indie-rock’s resident madman — steps production up ten-fold on Is and Always Was, his first release in six years. With multiple rock instruments where there used to be just a voice and piano, Is and Always Was tends towards both the mainstream and more mature songwriting from the secluded genius with bipolar disorder. Drum fills and electric guitars breathe new life into previously recorded track “I Had Lost My Mind.” Meanwhile, unconventional ballads like “Tears” and “Light of Day” prescribe life lessons from a man who’s had plenty of them over the past 30 years.

Check our full review in the latest issue of 20 Watts!

— Eric Vilas-Boas

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Positive Jam Preview: A Loud, Beer-Soaked Weekend in Ithaca by bzr
Positive Jam: a weekend of good beer and great music

Positive Jam: a weekend of good beer and great music

Check out the rest of 20 Watts’ exclusive coverage of Positive Jam here!

PREVIEW: Get the 20 Watts Positive Jam Mix here!

Music festivals and beer go together like ice cream and Grey’s Anatomy.

That was presumably on Ithaca concert promoter Dan Smalls’ mind as he began to organize the first Positive Jam Festival, featuring The Hold Steady, in conjunction with Ithaca Beer’s annual Brewfest at Stewart Park.

On Saturday, Sept. 5, beer lovers in Ithaca’s Stewart Park will indulge in the Ithaca Beer Company’s brews (alongside those of other small breweries across New York State) while enjoying the scenery of Cayuga Lake. The next day is all about the music — but both days will involve plenty of beer, with little corporate intervention to spoil the mood.

“It’s not just a big corporate moneymaking event, it’s about the city [of Ithaca],” Smalls told 20 Watts in a telephone interview. “There’s so many beautiful parks here, and Ithaca is just such a great summer location that it would make sense to have a summer venue like this. I think two successful years of putting on the Brewfest allowed us the leeway with the city to take a chance on something like this.” Continue reading