Words On Film: Captain America - The First Avenger

My oh my it has been a long time since last I went to the theatre. I've seen a few movies since a late viewing of Exit Through The Gift Shop, but I just haven't gotten around to putting them on "paper." This time though, as my geekiness goes all a-flutter, I saw a superhero film that just happens to be the best thing to happen to that genre since Spider-Man 2. That film was Captain America: The First Avenger. Despite Captain America's potent patriotism, this film never uses that as a crutch. Instead, to great effect, it plays a few jokes on the premise of this great American hero. But all of those jokes are in good fun, ultimately leaving Captain America rooted strongly as a World War II movie, in the wonderful spirit of past revisionist history pieces like Raiders of the Lost Ark and Inglourious Basterds. Director Joe Johnston employs as many charming gimmicks as possible. He brings back the glamorous '40s vibe he brought to The Rocketeer years ago, but this time avoids too much befuddling "gee-golly" style naivete. Overall, the film lives by gutty performances, a tongue-in-cheek ethic, and by embracing the charming action-adventure ethos of its imagined WWII-era.

Chris Evans plays Steve Rogers very well. And in a staggering bit of effective, finally! CGI work, appears at the beginning of the film as a waifish, but proud and brave version of himself. Captain America demonstrates how to use CGI well. Even as I was looking for cracks in the veneer, trying to find some errors in the "shrink-job," I was impressed that they didn't try too much. We should commend any director of action, adventure or comics for not falling into the "Because we CAN, we SHOULD" trap that plagues many movies. But besides that, Captain America gets great performances from a quietly all-star-ish cast. Tommy Lee Jones provides a large portion of the quippy, drawling humor, calling back to his smart-ass-man-with-a-plan from The Fugitive and U.S. Marshals, only with a much lighter heart. English actress Hayley Atwell is excellent as love-interest/bad-ass woman-warrior Peggy Carter. And then there's Hugo Weaving, who is convincingly hammy and over-the-top as Johann Schmidt/Red Skull. But, the entire cast deserve props for playing big, comic book/1940s-as-we-glamorize-it characters like Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark (great) and Stanley Tucci's Dr. Erskine.

Beyond the humor and the excellent color palette, Captain America's script is strong, offering only what it needs and never going on long, drawn out rants. Rather than having Steve Rogers expose on patriotism or freedom, the film embraces friendship, love and perseverance. And the story, brilliantly really (compared to many other contemporary comic book films), keeps quality content coming from start to finish. Some moments are predictable, as they will be in a genre film like this, but Johnston doesn't use long battles or pointless hero v. villain dialog to fill in gaps. Add the excellent book-ending, which sets up for Captain America's role in next year's The Avengers, and the functionally emotional and understated ending that it emphasizes, and this is simply a great film. Plus there's a great a joke made by Weaving's Schmidt regarding the aforementioned Raiders of the Lost Ark in the first 20 minutes. And it's just a well written, Allies v. Nazis, Good v. Evil piece. Go enjoy this film. It is worth seeing in the theatre for comic buffs or summer fun film seekers, but would be worth the rental too. Just see it.
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How To Dress Well - Just Once EP

Way way way back in 2010, when we were all but glimmers in our fathers' eyes and still dreaming of the days we'd be knee high to a June bug, How To Dress Well also known as Tom Krell released Love Remains. The album did some amazing things with R&B and melody, but was most notable for the extreme layers of static and fuzz piled over top. In fact, the fuzz, to me, buried any melody there was. So much so that I only gave the album a few listens before turning toward other cacophonous fuzz merchants like Sleigh Bells. Hearing that this new EP, Just Once, from How To Dress Well, has dialed back the fuzz (more accurately, scraped, raked and chopped it all away like a machete to jungle overgrowth) I had to give it a shot, just to know if I had missed something. Turns out, I had. The EP illustrates, as a companion piece/alternate take on a couple of Love Remains' tracks, that Tom Krell's R&B and Soul sensibilities are turned up to amazing. And save for some minor vocal failings, Just Once is exactly the Rosetta Stone one may need to go back and listen to Love Remains with fresh and understanding ears.

On the somber "Suicide Dream 1" Krell pours his heart out and an arrangement of sparse piano and layer vocals gives the song additional weight and emotion. It's a brilliant version and a clearer feel than on the original. This becomes even more pronounced on the beautiful, and really, my favorite on the EP, "Suicide Dream 2," in which Krell's voice is strongest. (Check out the originals via YouTube below.) These end up showing all of the influences Krell has throughout the Soul and R&B world. And the only weakness, really the only weakness, is that Krell sometimes over-extends his voice. But even that only bothered me once, as I was so easily lost in the melody. The relatively huge "Suicide Dream 3" follows. A new song for the EP, it features a hefty string accompaniment. And Krell's voice is a bit more buried here, but the end result is just as beautiful as a sunset, but more sad because you can't be sure you'll hear the song again. The closer is a reworked version of "Decisions" that keeps the beat and a lot of the original layering, but just peels back the fuzz. And it works great. You'll love it. I swear.

Listen to How To Dress Well's Just Once EP below, then make a couple clicks and buy a digital copy. Now, I'm gonna go back to Love Remains and listen to it again and again, now that I better know the language.

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July 21: Fleet Foxes with Alela Diane

Some shows ask you to dance, like an awkward teenage boy. And some shows make you dance. It's a question of greatness, pace, passion and love of the band, and of course, the crowd. Despite the mid-90 degree temperatures inside amid the human huddle of sweat and waving limbs at last night's Fleet Foxes show, we danced. And we battled. But mostly we danced. There are few shows that generate in me the kind of elation, positivity and pure energy as this one did. It was so excellent that immediately following the show, I could only speak in foul, terse superlatives like "Fuckingest amazingtastic!" and "Wondermost cockrockingest!" Of course, I didn't actually say those things. Those are dumb things to say. But this show was amazing. Even if the place it occurred could have been outside, in the cool of the night. And even if it was going to be inside it could have been anywhere but where it was. I've never minced words when it comes to my hatred of the Fillmore as a concert venue. It's a dance hall. It's a roller rink. It's a big tube. But it's not an acoustically brilliant space. And the biggest gripe for last night's show is the Fleet Foxes ended up sounding a little tinny. Tolerable, but still an affront to their pastoral perfection. But, hey we've got a couple of videos, provided by my dear pal Max Winkler.

Courtesy: Max Winkler

My great friend Jon commented specifically on the tinniness, saying that the show felt like a really good band "covering Fleet Foxes." And I get his point. But, ultimately, Robin Pecknold's vocals were supreme, if too bright due to the cavernous awfulness of the Fillmore. And the harmonies were exquisite. And the band sounded immaculate. But even greater was the energy. As they played their set, an amazing and perfectly designed fly-over of their best and smartest tracks, the crowd was at their mercy, in the good, hypnotized, enthralled way. They played "Mykonos" and "White Winter Hymnal" and "He Doesn't Know Why" and "Blue Ridge Mountains" and "Oliver James." They played the center of the Fleet Foxes as a medley. And to close it all out, they played "Helplessness Blues." But it's not just the songs that matter. Because we, the audience, were singing with them, and that communal exercise changed this from a show to be seen into a show to be experienced. There's something incredibly powerful about a roomful of people singing "Tell me anything you want. Any old lie will do," in perfect unison and near-perfect harmony. That's what I'm most thankful for.

Courtesy: Max Winkler

But, not to forget opener Alela Diane, whose Neko Case-ian vocal stylings and growling folk/country/rock guitar work made for an excellent appetizer. I'm fairly certain that she is an angel in disguise. My last experience at the Fillmore that was even close to this one was the phenomenal Decemberists show back in 2009. If you have a chance to see Fleet Foxes over the remainder of their tour, please do it. You will not regret a cent spent. And hey, check out Helplessness Blues, their new, phenomenal album... There's a little stream below.

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The Amends - The Amends

Just a couple weeks ago, I reviewed the Amends free EP, a collection of four songs that hinted at greatness, but also left me hungry for a clearer angle on the band's music. Releasing on July 23, and available for pre-order through their bandcamp site is that clearer angle in the form of a self-titled debut full-length. And the surprise with The Amends isn't that it's good, it's just how good and insightful it can be. Those moments of musical experimentation that were so thrilling on The Creatively Titled "Full Album Coming July" are everywhere on The Amends. And they appear to greater effect, tapping into just about every layer of post-punk, true-rock, sad-sack revelation and garage-door-exploding power riffing. Shared from the EP are "Dance," "Hey Regina," "Real Life" and a well-assembled studio version of the excellent, pseudo-olde-timey "Hotel Lobby." And, as they were before, they represent as the "holy shit, who are these guys?" tracks that will grab your brain. But wait, don't pick up that phone now, there's more!

Opening The Amends is a track called "Depraved" that rides a crunchy riff and swift, debonair vocals to a phenomenal, but brief guitar bridge. It possesses an undeniable groove and an exceptional lyric: "Love is just a metaphor." Following the brilliant "Dance" and "Hey Regina," is "Bored & Mean," which shows an incredible maturity and insight in lyric writing, chronicling the break down of a relationship in no uncertain terms. It's also perfectly decorated with keys that fit perfectly into the backdrop of once more groove-powerful guitar. Really. Great. Track. Then "Real Life" blows every one's minds, just as much as it did on the EP. "Down in the Water" lives by growling vocals and a potent drum line. It toes the line between punk and garage perfectly and features an incredible, dare I say "Wolf-Parade-ish" breakdown to end the track. But, then HOLY SHIT (and I don't drop the H-S bomb much here) the grunge and mellow groove returns with "Don't Tell Him," a song that drips with Black Keys-style blues/rock fuzz excellence. It also almost makes the role of "that guy who steals the other guy's girlfriend" seem heroic.

"Fall My Way" has a similar kind of passionate appeal at its core, but this time more sweetly and desperate. And the chorus is an instant catchy breakdown with a set of disparate and intriguing keys to fill in the gaps. And again, a great set of lyrics. Prior to "Hotel Lobby" in the closer position, is "Dandelion Man," a song with a great "Wild Horses"-era Rolling Stones vibe, but also the most harried lyrics. The song feels rushed at times, which works with the sort of desperate plea and stream of consciousness tone of the track, but the chorus, becoming so measured and carefully plotted, detracts somewhat. Still, this is a track that does some amazing things with music, taking full advantage of the keys/guitars combo that drives the Amends' sound. And then, we get "Hotel Lobby," which is phenomenal as a studio track too, though the vocals may be mixed a little high.

Tyler Taylor, vocalist, keyboardist and guitarist in the band says, "What we’ve tried to do with our first album is to create a kind of love letter to rock n roll—an attempt to create something new from the music that’s inspired us. Song by song, you’ll hear some blues, some punk, some indie anthems, some screaming guitar solos, some jangly pianos, and some old fashioned rock n roll. And it’s our hope that by the end you’ll also hear a unifying sound beneath the melodies and varying styles." He pretty much sums it up perfectly, which makes me glad that he's playing the music and not blogging about it. Check out their new album through their bandcamp site for pre-order and give some of these tracks a listen here in the stream below. But, really, throw these kids some cash because it's worth all of our time to find out what they can do with another record.

Latest tracks by The_Amends
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Podcast: It's A Thing! #13

The importance of staying limber should be the title of this edition of It's A Thing! but it's not because we try not to be too obvious around here. Jared confronts cartoon animals in one of the Alps-bordering countries of Europe. And there are SEGMENTS. First you get a little "Jared Reads the News" and back by popular demand, another thrilling, eyeball popping, genital engorging edition of Rat Facts! Like I said, segments, and not like a centipede. Not at all like a centipede because that would be disgusting... and leggy. Jared uses a tale of dentistry in a glass house (where one ought not throw teeth) to make an important point about the American health care system. Oh, and bloody teeth and apologies. Somehow, Jared and Mikey make jail into the ultimate excuse for being late. I think I'll try it on Monday morning. Also, Lil Wayne gets a SportsCenter tattoo. Brilliant! The moral and the lesson is that Lil Wayne is dumb, but his music is great. And then... oh my. Jared reads the news. About Ecosexuals! And a couple who has married the moon, the sky, some mountains... etc. And it's all been Nudist-friendly. ECOSEX. All in all, a successful segment. It even has a theme song. In other news, Jared loves Bryan Adams, Canada's Crown Prince of Music. Wait? Ryan? Oh. Well. Now, I want you to think of something. Close your eyes and think of Jared playing a snare drum in a patch of paws. Actually, imagine him with a Tuba. It's a much funnier instrument. Rat Facts! Education! It's an epic show. And if you have a day that needs saving... have we gotta thing for you! If you want some Denver music love... Jared will provide it! That and talk of mythical animals. And cargo planes... And the origin of Nature's vendetta against Mikey. It's an action packed, can't miss, It's A Thing! podcast.

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Lil Wayne - Sorry 4 The Wait Mixtape

Eh. Lil Wayne's mixtape Sorry 4 The Wait, which serves primarily as a place-holder for his forthcoming, but still probably long off The Carter IV, is actually really solid, loaded with quality samples, funky grooves and heavy bumps and grinds. The problem is that despite some creative and intriguing arrangements and music choices, Lil Wayne's lyrics just aren't that great. He spends most of his time concocting ways to include the ideas of drinking, fucking and killing, and as a result, the information surrounding those obviously planted-with-care moments of edgy vitriol is pretty dead. Or, more often, the sections that aren't about Lil Wayne forcing a women to swallow a penis-colada or other ejaculatory reference, are just him rambling like he has no idea what is meant to fill in the space around his "show stopping" words. And largely, that's Lil Wayne, except that this time around he a little clumsier than before, working hard to establish a tougher guy persona for his post-prison existence. The big upside is that the mixtape is free for download, and streaming below, so there's no real sacrifice in hearing it, other than time. And you can't get that back anyway.

There are moments like with "Tunechi's Back" and "Marvin's Room" where a clear combination of skill and artistic consideration happen, hand-in-hand. "Sure Thing" comes close as well, at least in its ambition. But, for every moment where Lil Wayne seems to recognize, becoming momentarily self-aware of the irony within his prostrating, he will throw four verses about glocks, pussies, cash, drinking, picking up white women, etc., until really he's just a parody of himself. Or at least the idea of Rap Excess. And there's not enough asides or alternate viewpoints presented for me to believe that he's trying to send a message. Where Sorry 4 The Wait could have been a statement about his career bouncing back, or at least about something, and I mean SOMETHING, anything, the real album just doesn't have a direction. Unless you count having sex, committing violence and drinking Patron. That's it. There's your common thread. And a few really great sample tracks and back-beats. At times, Lil Wayne even seems to have become bored with his own songs, falling back into a drone that is as unsettlingly bland as it can be uninventive. But, it's not a fully pointless piece of work. And a true fan will probably garner greater enjoyment from it.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #12 - All Special Guests All The Time.

How much would you pay to get kicked in the balls? Here's the 12th It's A Thing! right up in your collective face. Jared and Mikey are joined by two special guests. One is Jared Horney, Mikey's rat and the human Jared's namesake. The other... is me, Nate Ragolia. The question is can any of us handle this? The boys cover profanity and the glory of retirement parties. But Jared is sad. And I try to fix it, with Mikey's help, by telling the story of the first time I met Jared... back in college... in a writing class... and he was dressed... comically boldly. Mikey gives me an excellent music recommendation and we tease Jared mercilessly. As he deserves. For what he's done. And he knows what he's done. And then... Mikey tells a tale, a tale of Friday night, and a tale of brotherhood. It's a tale of Mikey viewing a vast, impenetrable and permanent nerdiness, but just as Mikey tries to save himself with a roll of the 12-sided die, he is struck down by a level 48 boy-mage named "Questionable Cleaning Practices." Everyone is old. Or are they? It's a violent tale of time scorning the young... and trying to sell advertising space. Jared, upon seeing a Rap Contest poster, decides to save the local youth center from closing, by spitting fiery word rhymes. The youth center is demolished... A little plug for a great band, The Most Awesome Protagonist occurs, preceding a story about a man not merely picking a fight, but just asking for one, in Oakland. Oh, and there's talk to lady boobs. And, in a last, emotional tirade, they try to put a little cap on that whole other It's A Thing thing. There's music! There's jokes! There's unresolved sexual tension!

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Handsome Furs - Sound Kapital

When I heard that Wolf Parade was going on an indefinite hiatus, I was extremely disappointed. Expo 86 is a fantastic album and it felt as though the band had returned to its powerful, hook-heavy, poetic roots. Of course, just because Wolf Parade is on indefinite hiatus (They are definitely on hiatus for an indefinite window of time, more accurately.) doesn't mean that I ought to cry over the loss of their sounds. Handsome Furs and Sunset Rubdown will continue to exist. And really, continue to dazzle. In a lot of ways, other than the perfect brilliance of Apologies To Queen Mary, and the peaks on At Mount Zoomer and Expo 86, Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner work just as well alone. Not that I would support a Wolf Parade dissolution. I wouldn't. But if I'm given the option to hear two great albums because they split up, I'll take that every time. It's kind of like how having divorced parents can mean you get two Christmases. The more you know... So, Dan Boeckner's project, Handsome Furs, has drummed out another incredible trackstack to follow up on 2009's excellent Face Control. This new album is called Sound Kapital and it kicks a definite amount of ass.

Boeckner and Alexei Perry, his stunning wife and the keyboardist-half of the Handsome Furs, have built an electronic, industrial, dance-rock, new wave masterpiece. They creating massive, fuzzy and undeniable soundscapes all over the album, each one backed with solidly danceable beats that fill you with energy. The album is so good that I'm actually having a hard time not using disgustingly cute superlatives. The opening track "When I Get Back Home" lives on the repetition of the titular line and grinds out through great keyboard work, including some beautiful fills that give the song tangible heart. It's a song about changing, about growing with time, and it sets a great tone for the rest of the album. "Damage" is blustery and chaotic, again with brilliant keyboard parts and a build that feels almost like an '80s workout montage soundtrack, and when Boeckner kicks in with the vocals it turns into a catchy-as-hell pop song. "Bury Me Standing" has a similar effect, seeming dense and mechanical at the start, but getting progressively more lively, more human and vulnerable as it goes on. There's a bit of a Junior Boys vibe that rears its head most in "Memories of the Future." It's a brilliant way to cross up the two styles too, bringing one part electronic lamentation and one part raspy guitar. Boeckner's voice really sells a lot of these songs because it's so recognizable and so strong, even in its exasperation.

"Serve the People" uses a slower build to get to a rousing combination of marching, pounding drums and a wall of sound. It's a call to arms sort of song that remains ever self-aware. "What About Us" embraces the '80s synth vibe most fully by taking it into a rational, downtrodden love song. The keyboard crawls that decorate the background of the track are phenomenal here and really give the song a fleshed out vibe. The only song on the album that feels bland, at least through two listens (claim subject to change... it could be ultimately awesome) is "Repatriated," only because the song appears to build a couple of times, but never boils over. Instead it just teases. And the explosions turn out to be rumbles that settle back down. Still it's a song with virtues. The powerful, grinding "Cheap Music" features Boeckner wailing as each guitar chord is struck and let resonate in its own fuzz. It also has some of the most wonderful lyrics on the album. But the closer, "No Feelings" is an epic gem. Warbling, guitar and heart-beat drums open the track as it begins to build, and build, and build. At the midway point it all mashes together into a voice, guitar scratch and synth sandwich before falling back to its opening smoothness. It's a beautiful way to close the album.

Listen to Sound Kapital below. And then buy it in some form. If not only for the music, then for the album cover... which you can see above is exceptional.

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The Amends - The Creatively Titled "Full Album Coming In July" EP

Through more internet magic, I've come to listen to the Amends, a new, local (well, Boulder-local) indie-prog-punk-rock band. Their new EP, which is now available for free digital download, is humorously titled The Creatively Titled "Full Album Coming July". Considering that this is the first toe-in-the-water for the Amends, a big first hurdle that can trip up any band like a drunk trying to navigate a cone slalom, The Creatively Titled "Full Album Coming In July" is a great EP. All four songs have distinct character and virtue. And other than some slightly bland lyrics to open "Hey Regina," the Amends have created a fairly flawless, definitely enjoyable batch of tracks. And that's no easy feat. Over the course of the EP, the band [Andrew Weikart (Vocals/Lead Guitar), Tyler Taylor (Vocals/Guitar/Keys), Shay Byington (Drums) and Chris Childress (Bass)] also demonstrates somewhere between 3 and 4 distinct musical styles. Diversity is always a virtue. In music, it keeps a band fresh and the Amends definitely never sound repetitive on Full Album (yes, I'm abbreviating). I will always defend the choice to have four completely different kinds of songs as their sonic business card, but it's not without its risk.

"Dance" feels like the power anthem that will one day close the Amends shows during the encore. It's an energized, frenetic, bounding pop-punk piece with confident vocals and wandering, charming guitars. It has designs on being a Strokes track, but knows when to drop back a bit to fill with subtle keyboards. The solo, breakdown, coda at the end is especially well put together. Definitely a show closer, or an opener that leaves the place breathless. "Hey Regina" feels almost the opposite. The lyrics are a little awkward and off rhythm. And the song breaks down into a bar crooner kind of sing-a-long. It isn't bad on its own at all. It's a fine song, that just feels incomplete and outside the confident facade created by "Dance." "Real Life" is the second best track on the EP. Crushing guitars. The return of that grungy, confident voice. More great keyboard accents buried in the guitar. The "Love me, leave me, drive me crazy, do it all, that shit don't faze me" breakdown represents what the Amends can do with lyrics and rhythm. It's great stuff. And "Hotel Lobby" with its saloon, jangly piano (nearly piani, really) is an excellent piece of work. On the EP, is a live version from Herman's Hideaway here in Denver. And even with the decent sound quality, it's a track that makes you wonder what other interesting directions the Amends can reach.

The bottom line is that the Amends are a new band doing great stuff. Four songs is hardly enough to make a fair judgment. But if I had to consider this an appetizer, I'd definitely stick around for the main course to show up. I recommend you do the same. You can check out the Amends via MySpace, Facebook and Bandcamp. And listen to the EP for yourself right here. Shazzam.

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Podcast: It's A Thing! #11

Jared plays guitar!? It's the 11th It's A Thing! Let's talk interns! Oh what will Mikey and Jared do with a British intern? Or a regular one? I'm pretty sure there's a lawsuit on the horizon. And certainly a lot of listeners made "cross." At least the boys have never played Leonard Cohen, right!? Jared's love of the Goo Goo Dolls in a partnership with the historical internet program "The Napster" led to his first acquisition and experience with a song by the Replacements. It's the attack of the killer lyrics, baby. Then the boys start talking about bowling and Mikey makes up the name of a California town. There's an interrupting phone call, too. But, oh man, the boys discuss the other It's A Thing podcast. Jared emails them and some how nearly causes an international incident. And there's some beautiful discussion of America Day, the day that eats... Wait. America Day: Horses are Just Depressed Cows. Or... hmm... America Day: We're sick of Horses' Shit. Jared gloats about an Indiana Jones style trip... on horseback... among the Mayan ruins. It's an extra tasty, extra frenetic It's A Thing! Jared says exorborant... thinking that it's exorbitant... At least that's what Mikey and I think. And believe me, I wasn't in the Alps, but I can read minds when they are in enough pain. Jared starts pimping GBV again, and rightfully so. And there's not a hot dog truck, but it's summertime, so there should be. I think. Get ready for some pop-punk. Some top hits. Some sparklers. Some freedom. And some America. All of these things dripping with the syrup of comedic experience. And a porcelain doll named Chet who haunts our communal nightmares. Oh... and nudity mixed with pool covers. Watch your face. Watch your butt. Wash them both. So says MOM.

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