Music Junkie
School of Language - Old Fears

‘Old Fears’ is the latest solo release from David Brewis, who is best known for being one half of the creative core of Field Music, along with his brother Peter Brewis. The record is a far cry from ‘Sea from Shore’, David Brewis’s first album as School of Language. The spiky riffs and progressive indie-rock have been replaced by synth-laced grooves and krautrock influences. ‘Old Fears’ is also a noticeably more laid back album than its School of language predecessor. Of course, there have been two Field Music albums in the intervening period. With hindsight, the early seeds of this album are noticeable on Field Music tracks such as ‘Write a Book’, although this album does still come as something of a surprise (albeit a good one).

The album begins with a squelchy electronic loop that forms the central motif of opening song, ‘Distance Between’. As with much of the album, the song is also driven along by a jagged drum-groove. The guitars and other instrumentation are more restrained than on previous records, yet still manage to busy themselves around the tracks in an infectious manner. This ability to appear simultaneously restrained and busy, is actually one of the triumphs of the album. This is particularly apparent on the funkier tracks, such as ‘A Smile Cracks’, ‘Between the Suburbs’ and ‘Dress Up’, where Brewis creates a sound that is both laid-back and taut.

The trademark vocals are the most obviously familiar feature of these songs; although Brewis seems to effortlessly adapt his singing to suit the feel of the record. Lyrically, ’Old Fears’ is also his most personal to date. He has commented that this album was written about his younger experiences, picking apart the anxieties of his late teens and early twenties.

As with much of the music from the Field Music stable, this is a record which I did not warm to that much on the first listen. Like previous albums, the enjoyment of listening to ‘Old Fears’ increases exponentially with repeat listens, as you slowly get to grips intricacies of the writing. The more down-tempo tracks, such as ‘Suit Us Better’, ‘Moment of Doubt’ and ‘Small words’ are definitely the growers that fit into this repeat listen category. The album is not perfect however. While the quality of songs is generally high, nothing quite reaches the level of brilliance as ‘Rockist’ from ‘Sea from Shore’. Also, the title track of ‘Old Fears’ is little more than an extended interlude of half formed synth sketches, which feels like wasted time on a concise ten track album.

‘Old Fears’ is still a success however, in both the quality of the song-writing and in the intentionally retro leanings of the record. The merging of vintage electro and progressive guitar-pop, gives you the sensation that you are listening to an old forgotten album. It has the feel of a record which has been locked away for years in a box, only to be recently discovered and appreciated for what it is. ‘Old Fears’ is both challenging and rewarding, but still entirely approachable. This approachability is entirely down to Brewis’s knack of keeping a catchy hook present, in even the most pleasantly bizarre moments of musical creativity.

Essential listening: ‘A Smile Cracks’, ‘Between the Suburbs’, ‘Moment of Doubt’.

8/10


Download Old Fears from the Field Music website here.

Stream Old Fears on Spotify here.


…on a further note, with a new School of Language album being out, can we also expect a new The Week That Was album (from David’s brother and fellow Field Music collaborator Peter Brewis) before too long?

Deviation at XOYO (with Motor City Drum Ensemble) on 4th April - a night we are excited about!

Deviation is already one of London’s most acclaimed club nights; the project of Benji B, who is seen as a leading figure in promoting future electronic music. If you have not been to this night before, you can expect a good mix of house, future bass, hip-hop, post-dubstep and more – all with a leftfield/progressive leaning.

This night will be particularly special as Motor City Drum Ensemble, the musical moniker of Danilo Plessow, is on the line-up. MCDE is known for being at the pioneering edge of house music, while also drawing influence from retro sounds of Detroit and soulful house. He has recently gained further attention for his Vermont collaboration with Marcus Worgull.

We can’t wait! Buy tickets here

-By Music Junkie UK

Tickets still available for WLTP (with Ugly Duckling & The Correspondents) on 29th March

We Like To Party event taking place at the Old Crown Couts in Bristol this weekend..

The members of retro hip-hop act Ugly Duckling, Andy Cooper, Dizzy Dustin, and Young Einstein, take their influence from old-school classics, providing a refreshing alternative to their hip-hop contemporaries. Originating from California and releasing a number of albums since the early 2000’s, they have managed to expertly capture the sounds of the late 80’s and early 90’s. These guys are a must for old-school fans.

Joining them on the line-up are a favorite of ours; eccentric electro-swing duo The Correspondents. While their records are fun, it’s their live shows that are really something special. Mr Bruce and Chucks have built up a cult following, since forming in London several years ago.

The line up will also include Sip the Juice, John Stapleton, Ill Behaviour DJs, Asbo Disco, Catface DJs, and WLTP residents.

We will be heading down for a party, so see you there…

Buy tickets here

-By Music Junkie UK

Some (amazing!) music to share with you…

Rather than doing the usual monthly review, here is the latest in Music Junkie’s series of playlists. This one is an epic 32 songs in length, mixing together elements of house, progressive bass, post-dubstep and leftfield electronic tunes.

If you are into artists like Julio Bashmore, Jacques Greene, George Fitzgerald, Pariah, Machinedrum, XXXY, Motor City Drum Ensemble, deadmau5 or Dauwd, then this playlist is definitely for you. If you aren’t (yet) into any of the above, then better get listening!

Progressive/House&Bass/PostDubstep

Full tracklist for non-Spotify peeps:

1. Julio Bashmore – Battle For Middle You
2. Jacques Greene – Tell Me
3. Bonobo – Know You
4. George Fitzgerald – I Can Tell (By The Way You Move)
5. Kidnap Kid – Lazarus Taxon
6. Jack Dixon – No One Is Watching
7. Girl Unit – Temple Keys
8. Pariah – The Slump
9. Applescal – Spring And Life
10. Joy Orbison – So Derobe - Original Mix
11. Bodyrox – Yeah Yeah - D. Ramirez Mix
12. The All Seeing I – Beat Goes On
13. Machinedrum – Gunshotta
14. Deadboy – Nova
15. Dauwd – What’s There
16. Waze & Odyssey – I Want You You You - Original Mix
17. Julio Bashmore – Ask Yourself
18. Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Moon Hits The Mirrorball
19. deadmau5 – Ghosts ‘n’ Stuff - Original Instrumental Mix
20. Röyksopp – Happy Up Here
21. Jack Dixon – Lose Myself - Dauwd Remix
22. Cashmere Cat – Mirror Maru
23. Sbtrkt – Pharaohs (feat. Roses Gabor)
24. Motor City Drum Ensemble – Raw Cuts #3
25. Pariah – Crossed Out
26. XXXY – Bash
27. Netsky – Storm Clouds
28. Machinedrum – Infinite Us
29. Nicolas Jaar – El Bandido
30. DJ Koze – Amygdala
31. Beats International – Dub Be Good To Me
32. Burial – Rival Dealer

If you want to check out our other playlists on Spotify, please see here:

http://open.spotify.com/user/andstuart

-By Music Junkie UK

Bombay Bicycle Club - So Long, See You Tomorrow

Bombay Bicycle Club have finally returned with their highly anticipated fourth album, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’. The wait since 2011’s ‘A Different Kind of Fix’, has been by far the longest gap between any of their albums. Unfortunately, the new record does not live up to expectations.

Let’s start with debut single ‘Carry Me’. This is a real gem of a track; a potent concoction of soaring euphoria, jarring musical refrains and heady rhythms, acknowledging their indie beginnings, while pushing further into the clubby elements that were present on ‘A Different Kind of Fix’. It is undoubtedly one of their finest tracks to date, and it certainly got me excited about the new album. However, there are two major pitfalls that this album falls into, on this point. Firstly, ‘Carry Me’ is by far the best track on this album, by a considerable measure. Secondly, ‘Carry me’ is not representative of the rest of the tracks. Both of these factors join together to form that age old musical trope, of a band releasing a misleading lead single from a new album.

So what of the rest of the album? Well it is by no means terrible. Actually, there are some reasonably good songs on there. And there are certainly no complete turkeys. It just all feels a bit average and inoffensive.

Opening song ‘Overdone’ gives more of an accurate indication of where they have gone sonically with this album. There are world music influences right there from the start, adding some padding around the pleasant melodies and soft-rock mini anthems present here. ‘Overdone’ at least develops an alluring fuzzy guitar line, as the song progresses. New single ‘Luna’ undoubtedly contains some decent hooks. The soaring feel of the song, makes it one of the more memorable tracks on the record, even if it isn’t quite the beautiful masterpiece that it strives to be.

'So Long, See You Tomorrow' does follow on from it's predecessor in some respects, in terms of it's nod to the dancefloor. Some electronic elements creep in to the album during tracks like ‘It’s Alright Now’ and ‘Home By Now’, but these never develop in the way they initially suggest. Like many of the tracks, the overbearing sweetness of these songs makes them feel a bit lightweight.

The lightweight feel is another stumbling point for this album, as far as Steadman’s production goes. Where these songs could sound wide and anthemic, they often come across sounding unnecessarily thin and brittle. While this works in places, it also holds the album back for much of its duration. There is very little low-end sound across many of the songs (‘Luna’ is one of the few tracks where the bassline is prominent enough to actually make an impact) and the vocals sound so light and tinny in places that I thought someone had tampered with the EQ settings on my sound-system, the first time I played the record through.

As a piece of work, this is an album that is geared more towards ballads and some very ‘nice’ sounding alt-pop. As far as ‘niceness’ and ‘pleasantness’ goes, this album has oodles of it. The songs often sound deliberately sweet and fluffy, pushing the band into dangerously twee territory. The big downfall, in being too nice, is that much of the material across these ten tracks is fairly forgettable. Tracks such as ‘Eyes off You’ and ‘Come To’ are cases in point. While this album is not as mellow sounding as their second album ‘Flaws’, which consisted entirely of acoustic/folk songs, it somehow lacks the depth of that album. The song-writing is also better than on their debut ‘I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose’, but that album had more punch and was frankly a lot more fun. More importantly, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ is vastly inferior to its predecessor ‘A Different Kind of Fix’, a fantastic album, which to date has proved to be their career masterpiece (read our review of ‘A Different Kind of Fix’ here).

The best way I could sum up this album, is that it would be a good release for a band who are in the later stages of their career. The world music leanings and middle-of-the road tendencies are typically indicative of a band who have a decade of releases and about six or seven albums behind them. It’s the sort of album that fans would still enjoy, even though everyone would know that they have peaked and that their best years are behind them (partly because the loyal fanbase would also be getting older by this point). Considering that this is only their fourth album though, it feels like they have arrived at this point far too early in their career. Hopefully, they are not planning to stay here permanently. They are capable of creating music much more exciting than this, as ‘Carry Me’ and most of ‘A Different Kind of Fix’ prove. In the meantime, ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ is a pleasant enough record, to fill some time until their next release. Let’s hope they regain some of their vigour in the intervening period.

5/10

Listen to ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ on Spotify

-By Music Junkie UK

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags / Burial – Rival Dealer / Morrissey Being A C**t

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags

Stephen Malkmus has become a kind of reliable musical constant over the last couple of decades, providing a reassuring benchmark of quality indie rock. That is not to say that his music has been sonically stuck in one place; the opposite is true if you take his back catalogue as a whole, including his time with cult legends Pavement. His sound has gradually evolved over the years, taking deviations along the way, but retaining a number of off-kilter indie slacker trademarks.

His last few releases with The Jicks have seen two trends taking place. One is that his music has become more melodic. The other is that his songs have become more concisely crafted. With Wig Out At Jagbags, this process seems to be reaching a conclusion of sorts. Unlike it’s brilliant predecessor, Mirror Traffic (arguably Malkmus’s best release with The Jicks), you don’t really feel like any new ground is being broken this time around. Instead, he seems to have slipped into a comfortable groove, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Wig Out At Jagbags is certainly not his strongest release. For starters, it does not reach the peaks of 2011’s brilliant Mirror Traffic. It is also lacks the noisier flourishes and psychedelic leanings of 2008’s Real Emotional Trash, which means some longer term fans will find this album too neat and tidy on the first listen.

After a couple of listens, this album soon reveals itself to be a solid release, with several examples of Malkmus and co’s understated genius shining through. ‘The Janitor Revealed’ is lazy down-tempo bliss, with tumbling melodies and an almost funky rhythm. ‘Houston Hades’ begins with about thirty seconds of jarring guitar noise, before slipping into one of the catchiest grooves on the album, providing a stand-out example of Malkmus’s increasingly rounded songwriting. Lead single ‘Lariat’ is also an instantly catchy fuzz-pop gem.

The album is not built entirely of mellow tracks however. ‘Shibboleth’ is one of the few songs to display a bit more guitar menace, harking back to some of the later Pavement releases, combined with some almost grungy leanings. ‘Scattegories’ tries something similar but does pull it off so well.

Wig Out at Jagbags is certainly a worthy addition to the Malkmus catalogue. Like much of his material, it can take a couple of listens to get into, but these songs will soon work their way into your head. From the duelling guitar intro of ‘Planetary Motion’ to the tumbling final moments of ‘Surreal Teenagers’, the skill of the songwriting and playing is clear. Instead of Malkmus and co pushing their sound into new directions, as with previous releases, this album feels like a consolidation of previous sounds. This album also feels more firmly rooted in the 90’s than the last couple of releases, which is both a good and a bad thing. With that said, if this was a 90’s album, it would be from a more nuanced, laid-back band than Pavement. Kind of like music being beamed out of an alternative version of the nineties that never was. I guess they are mellowing with age.

7/10


Burial - Rival Dealer

It’s been out a few weeks now, but I thought Burial’s Rival Dealer EP deserved a mention. This is the latest in a series of EP’s that Burial has released over the last few years. The title track is an epic celebration of 90’s rave, but done in a recognisably Burial style. It is also one of his best (and most danceable, along with ‘Loner’ from 2012’s Kindred EP) tunes to date. The EP also includes the uncharacteristically pop sound of ‘Hiders’, which seems to have irked some fans, with it’s 80’s leanings. Personally I like it, even if it is a bit daft. Final track, ‘Come Down To Us’ is both the most minimal and the most melodic of the new tracks, providing a graceful finale to this half hour trilogy.

8/10


Morrissey being a cunt

I know I already took to Twitter to have a go at him for this. However, in case you missed it, Morrissey took his twattishness to new levels recently, by claiming that there is no difference between eating meat and paedophilia. No really… The annoying thing about these kind of comments, is that it makes me not want to listen to The Smiths anymore, although most of the genius was provided by Johhny Marr anyway (and there go some of my followers).

-By Music Junkie UK

From Xmas drink driving to King Herod (via chronic indigestion) - Have a fucking miserable Christmas

So. Here we are once again. It’s the run up to Christmas, which means it’s time for Music Junkie’s alternative Christmas playlist. I was going to come up with a long, humerous (and deliberately cynical) spiel about the festive season, but I realised that the title of this post is probably the single best thing I’ve written since starting this blog. With that in mind, I am going to quit while I’m ahead and get drunk instead.

Click below to open in Spotify (track list included if you don’t use it):

From Xmas drink driving to King Herod (via chronic indigestion) - Have a fucking miserable Christmas

1. Christmas Was Better In The 80’s - The Futureheads
2. Merry Christmas, Baby (Please Don’t Die) - Crocodiles & Dum Dum Girls
3. Little Saint Nick - The Beach Boys
4. Christmas Day (I Wish I was Surfing) - Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler
5. Just Like Christmas - Low
6. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl
7. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing - Bad Religion
8. Christmas Time - The Darkness
9. Rockin’ Little Christmas - Shakin’ Stevens
10. Christmas Wrapping - The Waitresses
11. Come On Santa - The Raveonettes
12. Soulful Christmas - James Brown
13. The Season’s Upon Us - Dropkick Murphy’s
14. Wombling Merry Christmas - The Wombles
15. Santa Claus Is Back In Town - Elvis Presley
16. (We Wish You) A Protien Christmas - The Fall
17. The First Song - Band of Horses
18. Stop The Cavalry - Jona Lewie
19. In Dulce Jubilo - Mike Oldfield
20. Last Dance - The Cure
21. Carol of The Bells - Timbre
22. Feliz Navidad - Fenix TX
23. Slashed Wrists This Christmas - Gruff Rhys
24. Xmas Time Is Here Again - My Morning Jacket

-By Music Junkie UK

How not to ruin the ending of a TV series (part 2 of 2)

Warning – Major spoilers from multiple shows ahead!

Click here for part one of this article

…what about less successful series though?

Vince Gilligan may well have learned a thing or two from his time as a key writer and director on the X-Files. This was (and still is) a legendary series. But it’s main downfall was that it long outlived its shelf life, going into a decline over the last few of its nine seasons. Of course, the final episode was down to the series creator Chris Carter, so Vince can be let off the hook here. Thematically it was actually a reasonable ending, in that it literally explained everything that had taken place over the previous nine seasons. However, this was done in the form of a military court trial, where the evidence given was told in explanatory flashbacks, making it a little un-exciting. Also, there wasn’t a great deal of new information that die-hard fans hadn’t already figured out by that point. On another point, the appearance of several deceased characters as ghosts, felt like a contrived way of bringing back old favourites who had been previously killed off. Emotionally, it was also okay. We saw Mulder and Scully finally back together in the end, but we weren’t given that much else.

The biggest weakness with the X files, was the lack of any kind of resolution. I mean, there was literally none. In fact, I would argue that the last episode of the X Files wasn’t really a finale. It was just another episode; and a rather forgettable one at that. The whole story was left totally open-ended, being subsequently revisited, in the form of a feature film sequel and a comic book series. Who knows, maybe we will be given a proper ending one day (if the rumours over the past few years turn out to be true). Twin Peaks was another series that lacked a decent resolution, but the finale worked much better because it succeeded more in its thematic and emotional terms. Also, it certainly wasn’t boring, going down as one of the most bold series finales of all time. Similarly to the X Files though, it wasn’t really a finale. Instead, it was an end of season episode, with a big cliffhanger. A third season had been planned, which would have explored the idea of the dopplegangers in more detail, as well as the mission to rescue Dale Cooper from the Lodge. Unlike the X Files, this was a very memorable episode, even if it was still just another episode in technical terms (I mean seriously trippy stuff though!).

Okay.. I certainly can’t write this article without mentioning Lost again. As with the last example, the writers of Fringe presumably looked at where the writers of Lost got it wrong, and took notes. After all, both series were created by JJ Abrams, although his subsequent involvement in both cases was limited. The only area Lost succeeded in was the emotional close that was given to the characters. Thematically it was a disaster. The plot of the finale (and much of the sixth season) betrayed fans in an astonishing style. Many of the sci-fi and mystery elements built up over the first five seasons were abandoned, in favour of ill-advised mysticism, inappropriate nonsense and tacky religious allegory.

Most people claim that Lost failed, because it didn’t provide the answers to many of the questions it posed over the years. I disagree with this explanation. Lost never really needed to explain all of its mysteries, for it to pull off a good ending. Explaining everything can often remove a big part of the fun after all. Lost could have had much more success, if it had simply stuck with the themes it had previously been building on. A relatively extreme comparison can be made with The Prisoner (the original 1960’s version with Patrick McGoohan, not the remake), which also left a lot of its mysteries unexplained (after all, what was Rover and why did Number Six really resign in the first place?). Even though the (highly metaphorical and experimental) ending to The Prisoner was so controversial at the time, it has gone on to be regarded very favourably by many fans. Despite the insanity of the finale, which was unlike anything that had ever been done before, it still stayed loyal to the themes of the show, such as freedom, conforming to social rules, and being a prisoner of oneself and of wider society in a metaphorical sense. It just took them to a very extreme conclusion.

Most people still watching Lost, by the end of the fifth season, were fans of the sci-fi / time travel / Dharma Initiative type storylines. Those fans were never going to buy into a wishy-washy ending that follows the characters into the afterlife, so that they can all ‘find’ each other, and put aside their issues. The idea of explaining the alternate reality that featured in the final season, as a kind of purgatory, was just another contrived way of bringing back characters who had already been killed off. The mystical elements concerning the light at the centre of the island were also complete nonsense.

In terms of resolution, you could argue that there was resolution in Lost, but the wrong kind. That kind of ending could have worked, had it been applied to a different TV series. Consequently, it felt like someone had spliced the ending from a different show, into the place of what should have been the finale to Lost. The writers were so keen to surprise us at the end that they took a big misstep. They were also being a lot less clever than they thought they were. It simply didn’t fit.

Meanwhile, Battlestar Galactica is an interesting case in point. It did bring about resolution, in a closed-ended way. It seemed clear towards the end that there would be a final peaceful co-existence between the humans and the allied cylons, as well as a face-off with the hostile cylons. Some kind of link to modern day Earth had also been speculated about. Plot-wise and character-wise the ending was a little more mixed. For example, William Adama’s inexplicable decision to abandon everyone inluding his son, after Laura Roslin’s death, to go and live on his own, felt off. The seemingly reincarnated Kara’s disappearance at the end was a bit of a lazy cop out. Also, the final relevance of the opera house visions seemed forced. There were also plenty of positives though, such as the resolution of Gaius’s story, where he finally does a genuinely heroic act. The final battle in the cylon-base was also well executed, as was the long-awaited discovery of a new Earth. On a more general note, did anyone else find the action too front-loaded into the first half of the episode? The scenes on Earth were fine, but it went on for far too long. It reminded me of the final Lord of the Rings film, in the way they spent too long on what really should have been a shorter epilogue to the main adventure.

There is something else that I noticed with the endings to Fringe and Breaking Bad (two of the most successful finales I have ever seen). Neither of them were full of any really unexpected surprises. You could kind of see what was going to happen from the outset, yet it was still brilliant to watch. In that sense, fans got exactly what they wanted in both cases. Perhaps that is an even more important point. TV series have their whole lifespan to provide surprises and to pull the rug from under fans feet. Maybe a good finale shouldn’t try to be too shocking. Or at least if they do need to be shocking, in a way that is still consistent with what the show is really about; and yes I’m thinking of Lost again here. Now, I know that The Prisoner doesn’t fit this argument, but as much as I love that highly shocking ending, it certainly doesn’t get unanimous praise. There is still a fair amount of division and debate over it. Praise for both Breaking Bad and Fringe really has been almost unanimous with fans though. In the end, part of this is giving fans what they want. Part of it is not being overly ambiguous or open-ended. Ambiguity can work for films and shorter stories/series. But if you are investing in a show for several years, the need for genuine closure is much greater. That is why The Sopranos proved so controversial and why The X Files was so forgettable. Writers take note: be loyal to your fans and you might achieve that sought after legendary status.

-By Music Junkie UK

How not to ruin the ending of a TV series (part 1 of 2)

Warning – Major spoilers from multiple shows ahead!

2013 has been a good year for TV. When long running serialised shows (mini-epics, as I like to think of them) come to an end, they have a habit of not living up to expectations. Often, TV finales tend to be either underwhelming, divisive or just downright awful. A reasonable amount do manage to be okay, but nothing more. When a really great ending does come along, it makes it all the better, coming as a pleasant break from the norm. This year has been especially good, as two of my favourite TV series have both pulled off fantastic endings. The first is a lesser known cult sci-fi series called Fringe. The second is the more obvious contemporary classic, Breaking Bad.

However, a huge number of shows have failed, where those shows have succeeded. For example, the X Files falls into the underwhelming category; I mean can anyone really remember what happened in the final episode? The Sopranos falls into the divisive category, with its ambiguous cut to black. Meanwhile, Lost falls into the downright awful category. For the ones that manage an okay ending, Battlestar Galactica is probably the best example I can think of from recent years, in that is was decent enough, but not incredible. I will come back to these later though.

The way I see it, there are three main criteria (apart from the obvious points of being engaging and entertaining, while also being well directed, produced and acted) that need to be fulfilled to pull off a top quality ending.

Firstly a series needs a strong thematic ending. In this sense, I am talking about the details of the plot, as well as broader themes (as the two can also be considered separately, but let’s keep it simple). In short, all the stuff relating to the storyline needs to close in a consistent and satisfying way. This can either be through answering questions to long running mysteries, or closing off the story in a way that ties together elements from what has occurred over previous seasons and episodes. The main thing here is that the ending fits in properly the rest of the series.

Secondly a series needs a strong emotional ending. This is to do with the development of the characters, rather than the wider plot. Audiences invest a lot of emotion in characters from long haul shows, like the ones I have mentioned, so the characters need to be left in a state that makes this emotional investment pay off.

Finally, a series needs resolution. The final episode should deliver a conclusion to the story, where there is proper closure, or at least a sense of completeness in how the ending relates to everything that happened before. This links in heavily with both of the first two points, but is crucial in terms of giving a sense of meaning to the series as a whole. It is no good just providing an explanation of previous events, or bringing characters stories to an emotional finish, if the events depicted don’t tie everything together. Think of this as the glue that holds the thematic and emotional elements together.

Fringe (a series that took more than half its first season to get any worthwhile direction, but which rapidly shot up in quality as it progressed) managed all of these points. We got the thematic finish, as the finale tied together elements from all of the previous series. In this sense, the series was loyal to its audience. Fans who had been watching from the beginning were treated to a number of call-backs to earlier episodes. The use of the old Fringe cases during the attack on the Observer base, and the use of the white tulip, are obvious examples. Also, Walter disappearing through the time portal with Michael, to save the world, mirrors Walter’s original journey through a portal, when he brings the young Peter across from the alt-universe, almost leading to the destruction of the world. All of the main plot elements were closed off in a way that fitted perfectly with the rest of the series. The writers providing a satisfying conclusion, rooted in the sci-fi themes that the series was known for.

The ending was also highly emotional, in amongst all the action and the wrapping up of the plot. The characters were all given a brilliant send-off; Walter and Peter’s final goodbye was certainly one of the most affecting moments of all five seasons of the show. Finally, there was resolution (as in genuine, proper resolution). It was a closed-ended way to leave things and it was definitely final. The meaning of their epic journey was crystallised within the last moments; the balancing of saving humankind from destruction, against the consequences of the characters actions on a human level. Walter (who I have always seen as the main character, played by the excellent John Noble) embodied this, as the scientist who risked destroying the universe, just to try and get his son back, who then ends up having to say goodbye to his son, so that he can save the universe.

Breaking Bad also nailed each of these criteria. The thematic close saw all the plot points wrapped up in a very neat way. Vince Gilligan and co were also very loyal to the fans. There were plenty of nods to previous episodes. The return of Gretchen and Elliot was a well-placed surprise here, as was Walt’s final dying moment calling back to the ending of Crawl space, to name a couple. Also, did anyone notice that Walt wore the same style clothes during the final act, as he did in the pilot episode?

With Breaking Bad the plot and the characters were often hard to separate, simply because the plot itself was so character driven. All of the characters story arcs were wrapped up in a way that was emotionally satisfying, as well as being satisfying to the plot. We got the joy of Jesse’s escape, Walt’s final moment of honesty with Skylar, the bittersweet scene with Walt finally dying, and the messy demise of Todd, Jack, Lydia and co. In terms of providing resolution, Breaking Bad succeeded in an epic manner.

As with Fringe, Breaking Bad had a very closed-ended finale. Walt’s rise to power, as a meth kingpin, followed by his subsequent downfall, were perfectly represented in his return from exile. The consequences of the actions of all the central characters were also made explicit as everything drew to a close. Breaking Bad has always been a show about actions and consequences, so it was right that the resolution was focused on this.

What about less successful series though?

Click here for part two of this article

-By Music Junkie UK

Spotify - we know it’s great for music fans but what about musicians?

After a rapid rise to prominence, Spotify seems to have been going through an equally dramatic fall from grace, over the past couple of years. While their membership and the size of their library has continued to grow, there has been an increasing amount of criticism of the company, largely around how much money they pay to artists, for the streaming of their music by users. At the end of 2011, STHoldings gained attendtion in the news, when it pulled music from over 200 independent labels off Spotify, proclaiming ‘Let’s keep the music special, fuck Spotify’. Since then the issue has continued to boil, with increasing numbers of artists criticising the company about its payments. Earlier this year (July 2013), Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich made a high profile entry into the debate, after deciding to pull music from the service. Then, at the start of this month (Sept 2013), Spotify’s PR problems seemed to get worse, when the Ministry of Sound announced they were suing Spotify for copyright infringement - although this is a separate issue that I will come back to.

Whenever Thom Yorke has entered into a debate in the past, I have tended to agree with his side of the argument, sometimes being pleasantly surprised to see him and other musicians lending their name to a cause (and that is not just because I am a fan of his music). High profile artists trying use their influence in a positive way, is something that should be encouraged. That is, as long as it is being done for genuine reasons, rather than used as a tool for vacuous celebrities to boost their status, as is often the case - but that is a debate for another day.

I was therefore initially disappointed, when Mr Yorke entered into the argument about Spotify, to announce that he would be pulling both his solo album The Eraser, and the music from his band Atoms For Peace, off Spotify. Now, I’ll admit selfish emotions did come into play here, as AMOK, the album by Atoms For Peace, was something I was listening to on Spotify at the time. For fuck’s sake! Cheers Thom, that’s really pissed on my tube journey for the next few weeks.. Well, you get the idea. Although there is a bigger point to me made here, as I was reacting as a fan. And if you are an artist, your fans are your most important asset.

Predictably, lots of people then took to Twitter complaining about a rich mans protest. Does someone like thom Yorke really have a right to complain about payouts from Spotify being to small? I mean it’s not like he needs the money! Well, no he probably doesn’t need the money, but yes he does have a right to complain about it. As I said, it can be helpful when high profile individuals lend their support to arguments. In this case, smaller artists who’s opinions might otherwise be ignored, will be grateful for someone like Thom Yorke speaking out on their behalf.

So where is it all going wrong? Spotify do have a lot to answer for, but it is not all their fault either.

The first (more obvious) issue is that many smaller artists don’t get many plays anyway, so when these are added up and then calculated with their (approximately) 0.5p payment per play, they react with dismay at the pittance their recieve. With that said, even for more respactable amounts of plays, the payments can still seem small. However, streaming music is better compared to being played on the radio, than (legally) downloading or purchasing music, where the listener then owns the content and can play it as much as they like, with no further payments being required. Streaming is essentially renting music for a short period of time, while you are listening to it. You never own any of the content in your playlists on Spotify, or other services like Gooveshark or Deezer. This is where the radio companison comes in, as getting several thousand plays on Spofity is not equivalent to getting several thousand downloads. It is more like getting one play on a tiny radio station with only a few thousand listeners. Because of that, you cannot realistically expect to be paid that much, unless you are getting a serious amount of repeat streams from a big audience.

The second (more complex) issue is to do with the labels that many artists are signed to. Spotify pays its royalty payments directly to the labels who are putting out their music. It is then the responsibility of the labels to pay this money to their artists, while taking their share in the process. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that many labels are not passing this money on. Sometimes they use it to recoup promotional costs and other overheads, which seems reasonable, but in many cases labels force companies such as Spotify to pay huge costs, to be allowed to use music from their signed artists. This means that the labels keep all the Spofity payments, until these extortionate costs have been paid off, meaning many artists recieve literally nothing from being on streaming services like Spotify. In fact, many major labels use even more dark forms of legal trickery in their contacts, to ensure they keep the majority of the money in these types of deals, but I think you get the point.

These first two points are not really the fault of Spotify.

The third (more murky) problem is to do with major labels owning a significant share of the business. A few online searches suggests that labels own about a fifth of Spotify. Perhaps this is one of those inevitable consequences of modern predatory capitalism, where anything good that gets created is inevitably taken over and ruined by the poisonous effects of big company greed and monopilisation. Clearly a stitch up is taking place, if major labels are earning from their stake in Spotify, thus taking a share of revenue at the top level, while also being paid again at the bottom level, by recieving money on behalf of their artists and then keeping it for themselves. Essentially this is industry double-dipping, as they are siphoning money twice, leaving very little to be paid to anyone else.

Spotify do have a responsibility to be more transparent about what they pay to bigger labels, who are at the root of the problem. If these deals can be made more transparent, then the behaviour of these labels can be exposed. They also need to make it more clear, where labels are also benefiting from having a share in the business. The balance can then be tilted back in favour of independent artists and small labels.

What about the fans? Back to my intial gripe at the start of the article, if artists start pulling their music off streaming services, it is the fans who will be hurt the most. In the digital age, we shouldn’t be trying to wind the clock back to older ways of listening to music. Furthermore, if music becomes less available through legitimate channels, more people will move back to illegal filesharing sites, which will fill the gap of providing a convenient way for fans to get hold of music.

That just leaves the question of whether Thom Yorke and other artists were actually right to pull their music off the service. It is a tricky issue, as the points they are raising are definitely right. Pulling their music off the service has also made the public more aware of the issue. But, there are better ways of achieving this. At the end of the day, fans will suffer more than Spotify or the labels that own a stake of the business, who still have plenty of superstar artists on their rosters.

A better move would be for high profile individuals like Thom Yorke and Nigel Godrich to build up support for their arguments with other artists and small labels, so that they can take a broader course of action; ideally one that doesn’t hurt fans in the long term. For example, rather than individual artists pulling their music off Spotity forever, imagine if a coalition, of both high profile and small artists, pulled their music off for a week. They would certainly get noticed. While fans would have some short terms pain, the would still be able to access the music in the long run. This would send out a stark warning, showing what it would be like if these artists really did leave Spotify forever. Food for though anyway.

There would also need to be support from industry bodies though, as well a possible government legislation, forcing transparency on the deals between Spotify and the major labels. Spotify have their hands partly tied, as there are confidentiality issues, when it comes to releasing this kind of information to the public. In the UK, bodies like the Featured artists Coalition (who protects the rights of musicians), the Association of Independent Music, who represent many of the smaller independent labels, and the Music Managers Forum, who represent the managers responsible for their artists business interests, should all do more support musicians who are losing out. Similar organisations in other countries should also get on board.

Spotify and other streaming services are still great from the perspective of fans, providing a way of being able to readily access vast catalogues of music. They are also important in reducing the amount of piracy. Artists need a fair deal though. While it is great that they have a way of being able to promote their music to a bigger audience, through streaming, they still need enough money to be able to continue writing and recording their music. In short, Spotify and the big labels need to sort their shit out!

Oh yeah - I almost forgot to come back to the Ministry of Sound legal action.

If you haven’t heard about this yet, MoS are angry because Spotify users are able to recreate the track listing of their compilation albums, by picking the individual tracks on Spotify, to then put into their playlists. In essence, this is no different to making a playlist on players such as (depending on your tastes) iTunes, Winamp, Foobar2000, MusicBee or (God Forbid!) Windows Media Player. Unlike the desktop players, online services allow your to share your playlists with other subscribers to the service, while also allowing you to subscribe to other users playlists.
MoS are pissed off because other people are copying the song order of their playists and then (shock horror!) sharing them with other users.

Frankly, their argument that they own the right for the songs to be played in that order is fucking pathetic. Spotify own the right for all the songs to be played by themselves (or in a different order) anyway. The idea that you can copyright a set of songs being played in a certain order is laughable. By extension, this would mean that any playlist you create, even on a desktop player, could become illegal if the tracklisting matches up with a compilation album you don’t own. Hopefully they will lose.

See you next month.

-By Music Junkie UK