My New Favourite Music Genre: Closers

I’m an album listener. When I sit down to listen to music, it’s almost always an album I listen to rather than a mishmash of songs from various albums / artists. I’ve kind of always been this way, probably stemming from my CD player as a kid being a pain to change CDs for. Once a disc was in, you were committed.

But it also speaks to my love of stories and storytelling. A great album to me has a clear beginning, middle and end, and the singles plucked from it are merely “trailers” for the full story. And I’m using the word story in it’s loosest form, I just want to get to the end and feel like I was taken on a journey, even if there was no narrative thread.

To that end, I’m starting to develop a real thing about album closers, that last track on the album that brings the journey to an end. A good closer will raise my opinion on an album immensely, a great closer will make me immediately listen to it again.

A good closer has emotional punch. It ends (rather than fades). It leave me wanting more. It brings together threads of the journey so far and snips them off. For me, loud is usually a good way to end, but there are exceptions. It is the ultimate Album Track, making sense only in the wider context.

So without further faffing about, here are my favourite Enders in no particular order (and as I just said, they *must* be heard in the context of the rest of the album). I love them all.

Anberlin – Fin* (Album: Cities)

Anberlin are masters at this (with God Drugs & Sex from Vital also deserving an honourable mention). It builds and builds before exploding (lovely and loud) but it’s the final 2 minutes that earn this track it’s place. Completely ad-libbed by frontman Stephen Christian, the emotion and lyrics bring the album to a shattering close.

You Me At Six – When We Were Younger (Album: Sinners Never Sleep)

The whole album I was waiting for this. I wanted a massive, (yes, loud) and bombastic ending like “The Rumour” on Take Off Your Colours had given me. Instead what we get is a slow, tense, moody vocal dealing with feelings of responsibility and duty. Josh Franceschi lets his voice tear and quiver just enough as the track builds but never explodes. On first listen, I hated this as a closer, I wanted it to break into noise. On repeat listens though, it has cemented in my mind as the best track on the album.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Like Antennas To Heaven (Album: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven)

Full disclaimer; this is probably my favourite album ever, and almost entirely because of the weird, warped and whining bagpipes at the end. My God. So lonely, so lost, such a desperately sad end to the long and varied journey this album goes on. I can’t help but love it.

Rebecca & Fiona – Heavy (Album: Beauty is Pain)

And now for something completely different! I’m a huge fan of R&F, their first album “I Love You Man” has been played completely to death in my house, and Beauty Is Pain is even better. But for me, the closer on this is just a stonker. A massive club track noise fest to close off a sometimes complex and varied album. A 5pm Friday track if ever I heard one.

CHVRCHES – You Caught The Light (Album: The Bones of What You Believe)

I’m late to the CHVRCHES bandwagon, but I’m riding it hard now. This final track is easily my favourite though. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in love with Lauren Mayberry’s vocals (as are their fanbase going by the YouTube commenters who spend enormous amounts of time slagging off Iain Cooke’s vocals), so to put this as the closer is incredibly brave. But it’s spectacular. The less polished vocals, slower pace and high pitched synth contrast with the tightness of the rest of the album. It’s totally gorgeous.

Mew – Reprise (Album: No More Stories…)

Comforting Sounds seems like the obvious Closer to choose from Mew, but I actually prefer this one (and consider it the “real” ending to No More Stories, not sort-of-bonus track “Nervous”). Unusually lyrically straightforward for Mew, Jonas’s voice in a lower register than usual lends weight and honesty to them, leaving the album on a sad and pensive note.

65daysofstatic – Safe Passage (Album: Wild Light)

Oh my God this album. Strongest opening I’ve heard in forever, slamming into a heavy synth riff that sets the tone for the whole album. And then this monster comes along to close it. Starting quietly before building into a cacophony of melodic noise and finally cutting off all too soon and abruptly. This album to me is a masterpiece, and this closer brings that home.

Honourable Mentions

There are others that I considered including. Of Monster and Men – Yellow Light, Rebecca & Fiona – Sleep Alone, Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Wedding Song and many others coming close but not quite making my faves.

If anyone has any recommendations for other epic closers, let me know in the comments :)

Duke Dumont ft. Jax Jones – I Got U

I hate this song.

Not for the reasons you might think. It’s an awesome, feel good track, upbeat, lovely vocals, unapologetically sunshiney and I will undoubtedly play it constantly whenever the sun appears for a brief glimpse this summer. So why do I hate it?

Well it’s mostly the way the video makes me feel. I’m a huge music video nerd, and this one is very good for a dance track. Yes you have the usual unfairly hot people in swimsuits dancing around in unbelievable locations. But this is somehow different thanks to the first person perspective. I finish watching this video, look around at my messy flat, the flat grey weather outside, and the washing up piling up in the kitchen, and feel, well, inadequate. That the video says; “hey look at all this amazing adventure out there, now look at your life, it’s crap”. I think I’d like the video more if at the end he looked sad that it was just a sim or something, but no, he knows he can go back whenever he likes. Smug bastard.

Maybe this says far more about my mental state than the video itself. But hey, it’s how it makes me feel.

So thank you Duke Dumont for making a catchy summer dance track with a great video. You’ve really put my life in perspective. Now just take my money and leave.

So long Kohana

Anyone who’s followed the progress (or lack thereof) with the Kohana framework probably wasn’t surprised by yesterday’s announcement of its End of Life. As someone who was a loud proponent of Kohana (see my GitHub if you don’t believe me), I wanted to put down some reflections on the passing of my “weapon of choice” framework.

Kohana is the reason I’m a good developer today, I have absolutely no doubt about that. I did some of my very best work using this framework, and it remains the only one that really felt aligned to how I wanted to build things.

It taught me important lessons. It taught that writing PHPDoc comments will always be a good thing by rewarding those that did with dynamically generated API docs for my classes as well as it’s own; see userguide module. It taught me that PHPs autoloader (long considered a weakness of the language) could be turned into something innovative and insanely powerful (see cascading file system). It taught me that speed and real world uses trump over-abstraction every time. It taught me to write full APIs; getter and setters on everything, array or single values for setters etc, and that trying to force developers to use your class “your way” is counterproductive. Kohana’s use of single functions to do get and set (pass a value = set, no values passed = get) still feels insanely clean to me, and I wish more people would use it as it makes APIs vastly more “fluent”.

But I’ll tell the other side too. Unit testing was never a pleasant experience, with new versions of phpunit often breaking your tests for weeks until the core team fixed it. And Kohana’s use of statics is seen by some as a weakness. Personally I always felt there were very few cases where statics are used without merit, but that’s just my opinion. Also it’s lack of documentation for newbies (step by step user guides, cookbooks et al) was a running joke amongst its users.

The attitude of the core development team needs to be called out too. Whilst the project was at its height, the strong and focussed leadership, with a clearly defined roadmap and vision was a godsent. When the team abandoned it almost overnight, that exclusionary attitude to development became a millstone, with those wanting to contribute (myself included) having no idea where to begin, or even knowing if such contributions would be welcomed.

All that being as it is, I always felt this was a framework for “real PHP engineers”. It embraced what made PHP strong (fast, auto loader etc) rather than trying to force it into a Java-esque soup of subclasses, or an amateurish mess of PHP3 and magic.

Judging a framework by its docs (as so many did with Kohana) is simply the worst way of evaluating a framework. And yet we still see people do it today, with “prettiest website and baby’s first steps guides” often winning over genuine exploration of a projects philosophy and architecture to see if it’s the right tool for the job.

But I digress.

There’s one more reason why I think the passing of Kohana is particularly significant. In my opinion, the cascading auto loader will never happen again. Now we live in a world of PSR-0 and the FIG, frameworks that pursue different avenues of core behaviours are either shunned directly by the bleating masses (“lol y u no PSR n00b?”) or indirectly by not being compatible with Composer, therefore effectively dead in the eyes of the community. It worries me that we’re moving away from a blank canvas (albeit wild west) and into a very tunnelled world.

Consider that three of the most popular frameworks are based on the Symfony HTTP Kernel (Silex, Laravel and Symfony itself). All require PSR-0 and all require composer. Fine, that’s absolutely their choice, and I’m not suggesting that being based on the Kernel is a bad thing, far from it. I just want us as a community to make sure there is room for innovation outside of this set menu. Judging by the downright poisonous attitude that is displayed towards other component libs (Aura for instance), I do worry about the future of the PHP space.

But I won’t go into more of that here. This is a tribute to Kohana. I’m sure it’ll live on as Ohanzee in some guise, but the framework I have known and loved has reached the clearing at the end of the path.

I, for one, will miss it. So long old friend.