The Perfect Drug

The War On Drugs – Lost In The Dream

Despite the fact that it’s taken me over a month to get around to writing about it, I was pretty excited about the newest release from The War On Drugs.  Their last album was maybe a little uneven, but considering some of its tracks were downright killer, it had the feeling of a band that was just getting ready for something even more assured and epic.  And then Lost In The Dream came out, and it kinda just sat there in my iTunes for a few weeks, with me failing to really get on it’s wavelength until about a week ago.  Which I guess was my way of discovering that The War On Drugs are a band whose albums take a while to grow on you.  Though I guess when you’re only somewhat familiar with an artist, it’s hard to discern if their albums are “growers”, or just kinda boring.

Considering The War On Drugs’ last album was called Slave Ambient, it’s safe to say that they’re no stranger to ambience — so much so that they’d openly admit to being slaves to it (I think that’s what they were going for).  But the synth-y landscapes that are painted on Lost In The Dream feel less like filler this time around, and more like they’re there to deepen the melancholy and anxiety of these insular guitar-driven songs.  There’s often a delicate balance between plaintive balladry and heartland rock, which makes for an album that serves as nice background music, but is lively enough that it also makes for good driving music on a wet April afternoon.

At this point, it’s getting a little tiring to hear any rock band get compared to Bruce Springsteen, since The Boss seems to loom large over most rock music that dares to be big and expansive, while also exuding a certain heir of personal reflection.  But at least The War On Drugs managed to carve out a sound that bears the closest resemblance to the most underrated album of Bruce’s discography (1987’s Tunnel Of Love).  It also reminds me of a lot of other Reagan-era baby-boomer rock, like solo Don Henley or John Cougar Mellancamp-type of stuff.  It’s a tricky thing for an indie band to adopt a sound that’s so inherently uncool, but I think lead singer/songwriter/producer Adam Granduciel pulls it off by embracing that “coolness” isn’t nearly as affecting as sincerity or grandeur, which this album has in spades.

Favorite Tracks: “Red Eyes”, “An Ocean In Between The Waves”, “Burning”

Something From Nothing

Cloud Nothings – Here And Nowhere Else

2012’s Attack on Memory by Cloud Nothings was an album that I wanted to like.  I mean I usually tend to go for loud, emotional, punk-ish albums produced by Steve Albini.  But it just never clicked, and I’d have to attribute this to the fact that Attack On Memory wasn’t so much emotional as it was emo-tional, if you catch my drift.  I don’t know if it’s because of the fact that I grew up in the early 2000’s loving classic rock and hating the trendy emo bands of that time, but whenever I hear any young band over-emoting in that kind of way, I can’t help but recoil.  Luckily, Cloud Nothings have regressed somewhat from that sound on this album towards the more melodic guitar-pop that marked their early recordings, and I think they’re all the better for it.

One thing that’s always been clear to me about Cloud Nothings is that frontman Dylan Baldi has a pretty innate ear for songwriting despite his band’s more abrasive tendencies.  Even though Attack On Memory didn’t work for me as a whole, there were definitely a few songs whose directness and hook-iness had me intrigued.  Here And Nowhere Else sees the band easily melding a lot of that angst with these kinds of punchy, melodic anthems, and they’re more often than not pretty infectious.  Granted, the album is prone to an ocassional emo-tional outburst, to which I’m still like, “Eh.  You should probably do less of that”.  But I guess I’m willing to forgive it on the strength of the songs and the fact that at a brisk 31 minutes, this album never lets up.

Or maybe I’m just able to profess my liking of this album because I have no problem sitting through Here And Nowhere Else‘s first seven tracks to get to it’s closing number, “I’m Not Part Of Me”.  This has been one of my go-to jams for the last couple weeks, and it’s the kind of teen-angst anthem that feels like a perfect song for the still-pretty-young Baldi to be belting out.  I’m just hoping he can learn to mold these pop leanings in to something more fully-formed and mature in the future, but I guess this album often proves that the getting there can be just as compelling.

Favorite Tracks: “Now Here In”, “Just See Fear”, “I’m Not Part Of Me”

The Vault: Ape-ril

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

The year is 1991. Apes have evolved to serve man. Nothing bad could come of this, right? Wrong! We learn this fact quickly in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the only planned sequel in the series thus far. Yet somehow the inconsistencies and ridiculousness of the series are taken to even greater heights. Conquest may be dumb sci-fi fun but lacks little justification for its existence. I admire that Conquest takes the bold decision to bridge together the original films, but it fails miserably.

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Cap’s Back

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Marvel knew it couldn’t rest on its laurels after The Avengers. It would be too easy for super hero fatigue to take hold if they kept hitting the same note. So each movie of Phase 2 has been a take on a different genre; Iron Man 3 was an action comedy, Thor: The Dark World was a fantasy epic, and now Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political thriller. All of them are also super hero movies, but it has been an effective way to keep familiar heroes from turning stale. And if there’s anybody who needed to be protected from becoming old hat, it’s our blast from the past, Captain America.

Chris Evans is back as Steve Rogers, whose life has changed rather profoundly since The First Avenger. He’s now technically in his nineties and trying to figure out how exactly he fits in this new world and his new role as SHIELD’s top agent. Or at least one of the top two, as he spends this movie fighting alongside Black Widow, (Scarlett Johansson) who continues to be surprisingly awesome for a character I didn’t really know anything about before Iron Man 2.

Right when Cap decides to voice his concerns to Director Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson, who is used in this movie better than any of the others so far) shit starts going down. The Winter Soldier, a legendary Russian assassin appears in Washington DC and goes after Cap and Fury. All the while, Fury and Alexander Pierce’s (Robert Redford) latest program is just days away from launching but the question is: should it?

This is a movie with a political agenda, although not an incredibly deep one. Basically drone warfare is morally wrong and big brother spying on everything is creepy. But still, some people will probably cheer when Captain America says “this isn’t freedom, this is fear.” And hey, they should. Mostly, I liked the way this story leaned into Cap’s outdated personality, making his hokey old-timey beliefs into something heroic. Also the addition of Anthony Mackie’s character, a councillor at the VA, is a nice touch too. Plus Mackie brings so much fun and energy to the movie that I hope we get to see more of him.

Captain America’s powers aren’t very exciting compared to Thor or Iron Man, he’s pretty much a dude who’s just better than everyone at everything. He’s strong, but not Hulk strong. He’s fast, but he can’t fly. If he wants to shoot somebody, he’ll do it with a gun, not lasers or lightning bolts. Those limitations are this movie’s greatest strength, as it lets the fight scenes mostly be just Cap versus regular soldier guys. And man, regular grunts don’t stand a chance. None of the fights in this movie felt extremely CG-heavy, and they all felt totally brutal. Watching Cap knock fools 20 feet away with a single blow is awesome. Judged purely for its action, this is maybe the best Marvel movie yet.

Then there are the people who are interested in the bigger picture, people like me. While you could make the case that the ending of Iron Man 3 was a game-changer, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first Phase 2 movie to actually alter the landscape of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What happens in this film immediately affected what was going on in Agents of SHIELD (for the better) and the aftereffects will surely will still be felt when Avengers: Age of Ultron comes around next year. So, even if you don’t think you care about the captain, if you’re at all interested in cinema’s grandest experiment, don’t let this one get away.

The Vault: Ape-ril

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

You’d think that blowing up the world would have been enough of a nail in The Planet of the Apes coffin but somehow, Hollywood found a way. Beneath the Planet of the Apes, although underwhelming, was still a success for 20th Century Fox in 1970. Despite the films end-all-ending, producer Arthur P. Jacobs still saw potential in the property and re-enlisted Beneath screenwriter Paul Dehn to pen another Apes flick that had to have all of the entertainment of the first two at half the budget.

But in a strange twist of fate, a simple case of Hollywood greed turned into a good thing. Escape from the Planet Apes took the franchise in an original direction that not only gave two of the franchise’s most likable characters the spotlight but a clever, heartfelt, and thought-provoking story that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Twilight Zone. Watch out for spoilers!

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T3 77: Top 10 Albums of 1969

If you’re going to release a self-titled album, you damn well better do it in 1969. That’s right, this week we’re talking about music again as we take the ship of the imagination back to 1969 in honor of Mad Men‘s return to television. If this isn’t the boldest, most groundbreaking podcast episode you’ve ever heard, it is at the very least the one most likely to be taken down in a harsh copyright strike against us. Get it while you can!

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Long And Hard Times To Come

Justified – Season 5

If there’s one thing Justified is “about”, it’s that it’s mostly just a show about being really badass.  This would explain why whenever I recommend the show to someone, it usually consists of me unintelligibly saying, “Uhhh it’s just like totally awesome.  He’s like a cowboy and he shoots people and it’s awesome”.  Which might explain why I don’t really know that many people who watch Justified.  Anyways, if there’s one thing that this show is about other than being badass, it’s family.  Season 5 sought to re-affirm this with the introduction of the Crowe’s into the ranks of the Crowder’s and the Bennett’s as one of the backwoods crime families that have come under the steely gaze of Marshall Raylan Givens. Continue reading