Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Solider

Of all the films leading up to The Avengers in 2012, Captain America: The First Avenger was easily the weakest. With The Avengers: The Age of Ultron on the docket for next May, Captain America: The Winter Solider gets the dubious honor of also being the weakest film in the second wave of pre-Avengers films.

The problem with Captain America: The First Avenger was that it was too generic to be anything more than a serviceable comic book film. The big issue with The Winter Solider is that it tries far too hard to avoid being a by-the-numbers Marvel film that is comes off as a bit disingenuous. The script from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Thor: The Dark World, Pain & Gain) crams a ton of different story arcs into just over two hours, making the film really muddled and hard-to-follow at points. I can't really go into the exact issues with the various storylines without divulging spoilers,  let's just say the attempt at making this an espionage thriller backfired when it reveals the stupid, convoluted origin of the film's true antagonist (which contrary to the title, is not The Winter Soldier).

The Winter Solider is salvaged by the impressive acting ensemble and brilliantly-executed action sequences. Chris Evans has only gotten better as Steve Rodgers/Captain America in each film he's featured in. Evans goes beyond his typical charismatic self and dives into the more human side of the character this time around. The Winter Solider shows more of the struggle Rodgers has faced adjusting to life in the modern day and coping with the fact that everyone he ever loved is no longer with him. The new additions to the cast liven up the film with Anthony Mackie stealing the show as Captain America's sidekick and fellow ex-military man who goes by Falcon while Robert Redford chews up the scenery as Senator Alexander Pierce- who may or may not be against Captain America and his colleagues at S.H.I.E.L.D.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo (You, Me & Dupree, NBC's Community) rise to the occasion in their first big-budget, non-comedy film. The Russo brothers show a confidence in capturing the massive scale of Captain America that emulates seasoned blockbuster veterans like Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich. The action isn't as frequent as most superhero films, but every action scene is tense, unique and well-shot. The Winter Solider is not one of the better entries in the ever-expanding Marvel cannon, but it's still a pretty entertaining film with a great cast and a number of eye-popping action scenes.

3.5/5 Stars

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

50 Most Underrated Albums of the '2000s: #41

41.Fleshgod Apocalypse-Agony (2011)
Agony marked the start of a new chapter for Italian death metal act Fleshgod Apocalypse. The symphonic elements that played a secondary role on their first two releases (the 2009 LP Oracles and 2010 EP Mafia) got moved to the forefront of their music on Agony. Keyboardist Fransisco Ferinni- who became a full-time member of the band on Mafia- really leaves his stamp on the album with a plethora of triumphant orchestral arrangements and beautiful piano pieces that sets an epic tone for the entire record. The more symphonic sound established on Agony really gave Fleshgod Apocalypse a unique edge over a majority of their peers in the European extreme metal realm at the time of its release. The classical instrumentation is made that much more powerful with the support of the rest of the band. Drummer Fransisco Paoli-who remarkably had only been only playing drums for under two years when Agony was recorded- lays down some of the most astonishingly fast blast beats I've ever heard and Tomasso Ricardi shows vast improvement vocally from Mafia with pitch-perfect death vocals here. Agony saw Fleshgod Apocalypse reach the next level as a band and put a fresh spin on the technical death metal genre.

Standout Tracks

Monday, April 14, 2014

Football Anonymous Podcast

A few of my friends and I started a football podcast entitled Football Anonymous. You can check out the debut episode above. Football Anonymous is about providing an uncensored take on all things NFL from a group of dedicated, outspoken and knowledgeable individuals. I'm really excited about this endeavor because it's the first time I've gotten a chance to collaborate with other people on a project. It also allows me the opportunity to have another outlet to express my opinions and passion for the NFL. Look for a new episode every month from May-August and a new episode every week when the regular season kicks off in September. Hope you enjoy the first episode of Football Anonymous and, stay tuned for more from us in the near future!

Friday, April 11, 2014

2014 NFL Mock Draft 2.0 (Updated 4/11)

1.Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, quarterback (Central Florida)
2.St. Louis Rams: Jake Matthews, tackle (Texas A&M)
3.Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, defensive end (South Carolina)
4.Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, wide receiver (Clemson)
5.Oakland Raiders: Johnny Manziel, quarterback (Texas A&M)
6.Atlanta Falcons: Greg Robinson, tackle (Auburn)
7.Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, wide receiver (Texas A&M)
8.Minnesota Vikings: Khalil Mack, outside linebacker/defensive end (Buffalo)
9.Buffalo Bills: Taylor Lewan, tackle (Michigan)
10.Detroit Lions: Justin Gilbert, cornerback (Oklahoma State)
11.Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, outside linebacker (UCLA)
12.New York Giants: Eric Ebron, tight end (North Carolina)
13.St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, safety (Alabama)
14.Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, defensive tackle (Pittsburgh)
15.Pittsburgh Steelers: Darqueze Dennard, cornerback (Michigan State)
16.Dallas Cowboys: Kony Ealy, defensive end (Missouri)
17.Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Pryor, safety (Louisville)
18.New York Jets: Kyle Fuller, cornerback (Virginia Tech)
19.Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, tackle (Notre Dame)
20.Arizona Cardinals: Dee Ford, defensive end/outside linebacker (Auburn)
21.Green Bay Packers: Timmy Jernigan, defensive tackle (Florida State)
22.Philadelphia Eagles: Bradley Roby, cornerback (Ohio State)
23.Kansas City Chiefs: Brandin Cooks, wide receiver (Oregon State)
24.Cincinnati Bengals: Jason Verrett, cornerback (TCU)
25.San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, defensive tackle (Notre Dame)
26.Cleveland Browns: Derek Carr, quarterback (Fresno State)
27.New Orleans Saints: C.J. Mosley, inside linebacker (Alabama)
28.Carolina Panthers: Odell Beckham, wide receiver (LSU)
29.New England Patriots: Ra'Shede Hagman, defensive tackle/end (Minnesota)
30.San Francisco 49ers: Marqise Lee, wide receiver (USC)
31.Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, outside linebacker (Ohio State)
32.Seattle Seahawks: Joel Bitonio, tackle/guard (Nevada)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Concert Review: Danny Brown-- Boston, MA-- April 9th, 2014

On May 9th 2013, I saw Danny Brown live for the first time. Brown absolutely tore up the intimate setting of the Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 11 months later to the day, I saw him do the exact same thing in a slightly bigger setting at the Paradise in Boston.

The show did certainly not start off on an excellent note. ZelooperZ- who is one of the members of Brown's posse Bruiser Brigade- opened the show and he was not particularly impressive. He rapped with basically no charisma or creativity over a plethora of below-average trap beats. I will say that he did have a solid amount of energy the entire time he was on stage; making his set not completely torturous to sit through. I commend ZelooperZ for his stage presence and his natural ability to work a crowd, but overall he was nothing special.

I thought ZeLooperz was going to be the low point of the show: I was dead wrong. The second opener was Bodega Bamz and he gets the dubious honor of being the absolute worst live rapper I've seen by a wide margin. Every second he was on stage was agonizing. For those unfamiliar with his music, think of him as the Latino answer to Chief Keef- a trap artist who takes himself far too seriously. If you don't have a sense of humor in trap rap, it just doesn't work. The reason guys like A$AP Ferg (who Bamz kept oddly playing samples after several of his songs), Juicy J and 2 Chainz are fun to listen to is because they deliver a majority of the songs they make in a loose, funny tone. When that sense of fun is gone from trap rap, the artist is an absolute drag to listen to. Not only were his songs far too serious, they were also obnoxious as hell. The hooks were repetitive and his flow is extremely grating to listen to for any length of time. Bodega Bamz didn't even have good beats to salvage his music. Every single beat he had could've been topped by any average person dicking around with loops in GarageBand for an hour or two. The only enjoyable moment of the entire set was when Bamz begged the crowd to throw him a Newport on the stage for a couple of minutes before playing his next song. That laughter was much appreciated after being bombarded with the worst trap I've ever heard nonstop for 15-20 minutes. Bodega Bamz was pure garbage and I'm really sad that Danny Brown couldn't muster up anyone better to support him on this tour.

After an over half-hour wait, Brown's DJ SKYWLKR came out for a brief set. In SKYWLKR's 10-15 minute set -which consisted of remixes of other rap songs like "Hard in the Paint" by Walka Flocka Flame and "Love Sosa" by Chief Keef- he managed to blow the doors off both opening acts. SKYWLKR is a highly underrated producer and Brown is very lucky to have him as his permanent DJ. Brown stormed onto the stage at the end of SKYWLKR's set and launched right into "Break It (Go)". A raucous party anthem like "Break It" perfectly sets the tone for Brown's live show. Each and every time Brown takes the stage, he's clearly having the time of his life and is able to create an infectious, party-like atmosphere with his performance. Brown may be having fun on stage, but he's also incredibly precise on the mic. Brown's raw, minimalist studio recordings pay diviends as he is able to easily match the tone and delivery of the recordings in a live setting. The setlist was basically the same older material he always plays ("Monopoly", "Blunt After Blunt", "I Will" ) paired with some choice cuts from both the serious ("25 Bucks, "Lonely") and party side ("Smokin' & Drinkin'", "Handstand") of his new record Old. The set may not be that advenerous, but it's perfectly fine because a majority of what he played is amongst his best material.  Where this show differed from the previous time I saw him was Brown having members of Bruiser Brigade with him on stage. They didn't really add much to the show (Hell ZelooperZ didn't even have a mic except for the hook on "Kush Coma") save for providing backing vocals and accompanying Brown in finishing some of his punchlines. While it wasn't as amazing as his performance at The Middle East last year, Danny Brown stil put on a hell of a performance that puts most other hip-hop acts to shame.

Side Notes:
-Brown performed "Lonely" by himself sitting on the edge of the stage, which made for an uncharacteristicly poigant moment for one of his performances.
-ZelooperZ stage dived at the end of "Dip" and lost his hat; which lead to an amusing scene involving a security guard coming onto the stage with a flashlight trying to find it.
-ZelooperZ came out to a Lil B song. This was easily the best moment of his set #thankyoubasedgod
-Bodega Bamz had a crew of about 7-8 people with him on stage. This was extremely confusing because only 1 of them had a mic. I've never seen a larger group of inactive people on a stage before in my entire life.
 -Bamz dedicated some song about selling crack to the gay community, which added yet another layer confusion to his set.
-Some guy in the balcony kept yelling "Latino Heat!" during Bamz's set.
-One of Bamz's posse members ran around the stage with a Puerto Rician and some other Spanish country flag that I didn't recognize during his last song.    
-Bamz's DJ randomly played "Man of the Year" by ScHoolboy Q after Bamz had exited the stage.
-The subway ride back from The Paradise was comical as some drunk dude got on the subway and randomly went up to some guy who was carrying a guitar and, told him that "he had nice fingers" then proceeded to ask him if he played the piano.
  

Scores:
ZeLooperz 4/10
Bodega Bamz 2/10 (boosted from a 1 simply because of how hilarious the Newport incident was)
Danny Brown 8.5/10

Setlist:
Danny Brown:
Break It (Go)
Molly Ringwald
Smokin' & Drinkin'
Express Yourself
Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)
Lie4
Handstand
I Will
Side B (Dope Song)
Witit
Bruiser Brigade (w/Dopehead)
Dat Chopa
Jealousy (The Purist Cover)
Monopoly
Blunt After Blunt
Kush Coma
25 Bucks
Dip

Encore:
Lonely

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Album Review: Animals as Leaders-The Joy of Motion

It's truly amazing to see how far Animals as Leaders has come in popularity since their formation in 2007. In an era where instrumental music is seemingly a niche genre, Animals as Leaders has picked up a large and rabid following that is only growing as time goes on. Their third full-length studio album, The Joy of Motion, continues to strengthen their reputation as instrumental music juggernauts.

The Joy of Motion is the next logical step for Animals as Leaders as a band. The music is rooted in the same blueprint that made their first two albums successful while also managing to expand their musical arsenal. The songwriting on The Joy of Motion marks a giant leap forward for the band. They've never written material that is this layered in the past. Guitarists Tosin Abasi and Javier Reyes focused more on song structure here than simply just showing off their technical proficiency. The increased focus on melodies and atmosphere make the face-melting technical solowork on tracks such as "Mind-Spun" and "Physical Education" that much more satisfying. Numerous tracks on here including "Another Year", "Para Mexer" and "Air Chrysalis" never even enter flashy technical territory; relying completely on melodic passages to drive the songs. The more subdued songwriting exposes just how fantastic the band is at writing low-key, acoustic-driven sections to break up the meatier side of their sound. Abasi and Reyes also incorporate some Latin and jazz fusion influences into the fold; giving Animals as Leaders a new facet to make their music that much more expansive. Animals as Leaders have always been brilliant musicians, but the experimentation on The Joy of Motion has managed to bring them to the next level of musical excellence.

The production from Periphery guitarist Misha "Bulb" Mansoor gets the most of Animals as Leaders' sound. I was originally skeptical with Mansoor being behind the boards after the mediocre job he did with Animals as Leaders' debut record, but he does an excellent job here. The guitars sound crisp, the drums never get buried in the mix and the keyboards/electronics don't sound stiff like they did on Mansoor's previous collaboration with the band. Mansoor shows a lot more confidence and polish in his  style on The Joy of Motion than on any of his previous efforts as a producer. Animals as Leaders should only work exclusively with Mansoor in the future because they've never sounded clearer or tighter from a sound mix standpoint than on The Joy of Motion.

The Joy of Motion is without question the strongest material Animals as Leaders has crafted to-date. The music is simultaneously the heaviest, most experimental and well-rounded material of their career. They're no longer an act that exclusively centers around Abasi's virtuoso guitar talents; they have some absolutely gorgeous melodies and, are able to create a unique mood with every piece of music they write. The Joy of Motion sees a band that already had a boatload of talent get even better by adding more depth and variation to their sound. The Joy of Motion is a record that beckons for all instrumental acts currently out there to step their game up. Animals as Leaders are the undisputed kings of the genre and it's going to take a monumental effort to knock them off their throne.

Standout Tracks
1.Mind-Spun
2.The Woven Web
3.Physical Education     

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

50 Most Underrated Albums of the '2000s: #42

42. Alice in Chains-Black Gives Way to Blue (2009)
There was a lot of skepticism about how Alice in Chains would sound without Layne Staley at the helm. The band took their time to find a new vocalist and record new material after Staley died of a drug overdose in 2002. 14 years after releasing their last album with Staley, Black Gives Way to Blue saw the light of day, and blew away any expectations that were set for it. Black Gives Way to Blue wasn't just a competent Alice in Chains reboot without Staley; it was every bit as good as most of the material they recorded in their heyday. Even after a lengthy hiatus, guitarist/co-vocalist Jerry Cantrell didn't show any rust by composing an album that is chock full of the grunge-metal anthems and moving ballads the band became known for in the '90s. While Cantrell's songwriting was sharp as ever, the unsung hero of Black Gives Way to Blue is new lead vocalist William DuVall. DuVall had to live in the shadow of one of the greatest vocalists in the history of rock music and still managed to deliver the goods on this record. DuVall sounds eerily like Staley on a lot of these tracks ("Your Decision" and "A Looking in View" especially) while also bringing his own unique flair to the mix. DuVall does the damn near impossible by keeping this iconic band in top form after losing such a pivotal member to the group. Staley must be proud of what his bandmates were able to do with Black Gives Way to Blue. Cantrell, drummer Sean Kinney and bassist Mike Inez kept Alice in Chains alive and well by picking the best possible replacement vocalist and not diverting from the type of music that made them iconic in the first place. Aside from Dirt, Black Gives Way to Blue is the most complete and satisfying record in Alice in Chains' discography.
 
Standout Tracks