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Station Breaks Album Review

Written by Erika “The Station Breaks” is the self-titled debut album of fledgling group the Station Breaks, a musical collaboration ...

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Wayward Sisters: An Appreciation

Wayward Sisters: An Appreciation
By Dot

Amazing things are afoot.

First let’s go back to the start. I want to tell you a story about a fandom.

Having watched Supernatural since the pilot episode aired in October 2005, I’ve seen the fandom change and evolve. One particular concern is the female characters—their presence in canon, the fandom’s response to female characters, even perceptions of the fandom’s view of female characters.

From the beginning, many Supernatural fans were protective of the show keeping its focus on brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, which is understandable. Supernatural at its center is a “bottle” show mostly focused on the Winchester brothers, although that often encompasses their extended family. It’s also a show that revolves around male point of view. However, women have always been important on Supernatural, and not just to be mourned by the male leads, although it didn’t help that the main impetus for the show starts over the death of two female characters.

However there have been plenty of recurring or memorable one-shot female characters who have agency. It’s both a misperception and a truth that early Supernatural fandom was negative towards newly introduced female characters. While some fans were a bit more intense in their desire to have the show remain “only about the brothers,” many fans welcomed new characters and felt that, even if Supernatural is a show about the male emotional landscape, that wasn’t a reason to exclude women.

For example, resistance to the introduction of Jo Harvelle, a female hunter, in season 2 was high--but so was the love. Many fans rooted for her to be more of a regular presence on the show. Unfortunately that didn’t come to pass, perhaps because the support didn’t manage to gain enough foothold to outweigh the backlash. Season 3 saw the introduced Bela, a dealer in mystical objects, and Ruby, a demon. Bela’s arc had a lot of potential that the show cut too short and the character was killed off by the end of the season. Ruby had a more extensive, complex arc with the Winchesters, but was eventually revealed as a villain and killed off.

Yet there was always significant portion of the fandom that wanted more positive representation of women (and minorities) on Supernatural. Some fans were wary, out of a protectiveness of keeping the show centered on Sam and Dean, but not against having more characters around. Some were more resistant, some even hateful—which is where the fandom’s reputation for being unfriendly towards female characters originated, but it’s not the full picture.

That full picture is far more complicated, and took time to emerge.

One of the biggest reasons for change was shifts in social media, and with that, fandom’s relationship with creators. Concepts about what fandom should be changed. During Supernatural’s earliest seasons, fandom was more insular, with less interaction between fans and creatives. The internet wasn’t as accessible to as many people as it later became, and the nature of social media was constantly evolving. Fans heard each other’s voices more than they were heard by the people who made the stories. As the nature of fandom changed, so did Supernatural fandom.

While there’s an argument to be made that showrunners shouldn’t be too governed by online opinion, they also ignore fan voices at their peril. It’s not true that the only “real” fans are the quiet ones who never ask for anything, or question anything, who don’t look deeper—there’s value in respectful criticism, and change and growth are part of storytelling. TV shows survive by fan engagement, and yes, online engagement matters. Supernatural itself would not have become the longest running genre show in US history without its fanbase, without more than one type of fan supporting it, and without newer fans as well as older ones. The more fans engage, the fuller the picture of what a fandom really is. Creators need to honor long-standing characters and elements at the foundation of a series while allowing for expansion, and this balance can be precarious to maintain. But change itself is not the problem. Additions to the cast can make a strong show even better.

The advent of high speed internet, greater accessibility, and the arrival of sites like twitter and tumblr, along with the rise of conventions, caused some seismic shifts. Fans more readily engaging with the people who made their shows has advantages and disadvantages, but a wider range of voices being heard has a ripple effect, especially given that diversity in storytelling can have such an important impact. Stories are a reflection and a commentary on the world we live in, even if they’re fantasy or science fiction, and can help inspire and open minds. For a show with the longevity and pop culture footprint of Supernatural, it definitely matters to expand the definitions of who gets to be the hero.

The portion of Supernatural’s fanbase that welcomed more characters gained a stronger voice over time. It became more and more evident that the fandom was more complex and diverse than it had first seemed. An aspect of fandom that got drowned out in early seasons began to move to the forefront.

There is a large and thriving part of Supernatural fandom that sees nothing odd whatsoever in watching the show for more than one reason, and who fell hard for recurring characters of all kinds. Fans care deeply about them as they do about the Winchester brothers who are still the show’s main focal points and fandom touchstones. The introduction of the angel Castiel was one watershed moment. The character moved to the forefront of the show’s long-running arc about family defined by more than blood, and ignited a fanbase to rival Sam and Dean’s. The resistance to new characters isn’t entirely about sexism--even with a male character like Castiel, there’s a portion of the fanbase who still flat-out balks at anyone but the Winchester brothers getting too much attention or support. Castiel’s “break-out” helped usher an environment that no longer stigmatized the idea of watching for more than one reason.

The concept of Supernatural as a whole world has grown since the earliest seasons. It’s a universe, with many rich characters that deserve their stories told. Those barn doors cannot be un-opened. And along with that, fans of female characters have become ever-increasingly vocal. Fans strongly supportive of female characters and LGBT characters and characters of color, who embrace the idea of Supernatural as a wider (if still personal-scale) canvas have become a force to be reckoned with.

When the character of Sheriff Jody Mills, played by Kim Rhodes, arrived during season 6, no one was sure how long she would survive. The character was accepted, though, and then embraced. She continued to return each season, growing as a character. Jody, like the Winchesters, had her family ripped apart by supernatural forces, and became a hunter. Fans also embraced Kim Rhodes, who became a regular fixture on the Supernatural convention circuit. When Sheriff Donna Hanscum arrived, it was to a much more welcoming environment already in place. Briana Buckmaster’s portrayal of the smart, tough, yet somewhat more innocent and naive Donna, who gets pulled into the hunting world, also won fans over.

Individually and as a team, Kim and Briana are some of the warmest, most caring actors a fandom could hope for. They’re smart, they show us their hearts, and admit to their fears. They engage with us on twitter and do frequent livestreams on facebook. Kim often makes wonderful, raw & honest, heart-first tumblr posts. With Kim and Briana, along with other women from the cast, the Supernatural convention circuit went from almost no women on panels, progressing to regular appearances and finally headlining the weekend. They’ve become among the touchstones in Supernatural fandom.

In season ten, the series re-introduced Claire Novak, played by Kathryn L. Newton. Claire, the daughter of Jimmy Novak, the man who gave his consent to become Castiel’s vessel (Jimmy’s soul went to heaven seasons ago), had some tense initial interactions with Sam, Dean, and Castiel but wound up as an adoptive little sister.  Supernatural also introduced Alex, played by Kat Ramdeen, a young woman fleeing the pack of vampires who raised her, who Jody took under her protection. Both young women found refuge with Sheriff Jody.

The fanbase inspired by the friendship between Jody and Donna also blossomed, even though they had interacted in only one episode so far. Another episode showed the inner workings of Jody’s household, and the relationship between Claire and Alex appealed strongly to fans as well. Genre tends to depict male bonding far more often than it depicts female relationships.

Fans started talking about the specific concept of Wayward Daughters when Claire first went to Jody’s place, and the enthusiasm for the idea just kept growing. The fandom movement of Wayward Daughters, while based in a push for a spin-off, became about more than a spin-off. Wayward Daughters is about advocating for women in Supernatural fandom and on the show, and providing a support network that may be focused on women but is inclusive of all genders and fans of all backgrounds. The #WaywardAF tag is an expression of individuality as well as a way to connect with others.

The yearning for a spin-off centered on pre-established characters, especially female characters, had been voiced before, but the Wayward Daughters movement in fandom was when it took hold in a big way. The momentum of the love Supernatural fans have for Jody, Donna, Alex, and Claire continued to grow. Bringing us to Wayward Sisters.

The CW has announced a backdoor pilot in season 13 for a female-led Supernatural spinoff, “Wayward Sisters.” It will star Kim Rhodes, Briana Buckmaster, Kathryn L. Newton, Kat Ramdeen, and newcomers Clark Backo, who will play Patience (the granddaughter of Missouri Mosely, a memorable one-shot female character from season 1), and Yadira Guevara-Prip, who will play Kaia, another young “wayward daughter” taken under Jody and Donna’s wing.

It’s a “how did we get here” feeling in all the best possible ways.

Supernatural is still chronically too quick to mash the “kill characters for drama” button. It’s doubtful many fans will ever forgive the show for killing off Charlie Bradbury, played by Felicia Day, a geeky female character who was also a lesbian, who endured for a while, or Eileen Leahy, a deaf hunter portrayed by a deaf actress, Shoshanna Stern, who was introduced and killed off after a few scant episodes. But female characters have still made deep footprints in canon and in fandom. The fact that Supernatural is primarily a show about male characters hasn’t precluded that happening, and doesn’t mean female characters shouldn’t be allowed to be significant in that world.

After all, far more than male point of view, Supernatural is ultimately about people. It’s about family, friendship, grief, loss and regaining of hope, fighting on despite being kicked in the stomach, and shooting monsters in the face. It’s universal. It’s about the fact that strong emotions and nurturing behavior can go side-by-side with badassery and are not limited to any one gender. It’s about the bond between two brothers as well as how family forms in varied ways. And just as the stories of male characters are relatable regardless of gender, the same is true of female characters. One of the show’s greatest strengths is tapping into that universality. Despite its flaws, Supernatural gets that people are people and the commonalities that lie beneath appearances.

I’m delighted this backdoor pilot is a thing, that this series will have its shot at becoming. I feel the concept will work. Supernatural’s previous attempt at a spin-off, Bloodlines, failed for a variety of reasons. One was because it didn’t tap into the show’s rich and beloved array of pre-existing recurring characters.

It took many things to get us here.

The road to Wayward Sisters is a testament to the fact that fan voices do matter and can make a difference, and how fanbases and viewpoints evolve over time. Properties such as Marvel, Star Wars, and DC are changing too, as women and minorities and LGBT fans--fans who were always there, but not recognized--have their voices heard more often.

Supernatural’s fanbase is often incorrectly categorized still as overwhelmingly male-driven. That is not the case. Women built most of the fandom’s online spaces, women have been a predominant force keeping the show renewed season after season, women relate to Sam, Dean, and Castiel, women spend money on conventions, merchandise, and DVD’s, and women are a strong support for female characters on the show.

The world of Supernatural, like Star Wars, is a girl thing too.

This is a fandom story over a decade in the making of how fan love and support makes amazing things happen.

Keep raising your voices. Keep showing what you love. It took so much to get us here, but we are here.

Keep going.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Let the Rumors Fly

Hello Darlings,

First off, we want to apologies for being so silent for so long. Life sometimes gets in the way, but we are working on not letting that interfere with future posts as we have some awesome content and insight for you coming up!

Comment down below with your thoughts on this post, questions you may have or if you have ideas of what you think we should be covering in the future! Thank you to our readers sharing in your excitement is why we create the conversations.

With the impending finale of season 12 of the ever popular CW show Supernatural, producers teased earlier this week that in typical ‘no one is safe’ fashion a character may die. This is a compelling formula to create high stakes drama which is often an emotional roller coaster for devoted fans and casual consumers of the show.

Some shows often create a cliff hanger ending in their season final to increase their chances of returning in the fall and avoiding the chopping block by TV executives who make the budgeting decisions for their networks. This has worked out well for Eric Kripke's Supernatural (SPN), in the past and we expect something similar in the works for the final of the current season. As always with a large fan base, which SPN is famous for rumors are easily started and can come from nothing.
The producers teased earlier this week that there may be a character death and that coupled with what a fan heard from Mark Sheppard -who plays the villainous but loved King of Hell, the demon Crowley- at a recent Supernatural fan convention that he had very much enjoyed his time on Supernatural. Some are convinced Crowley, may be exiting the show this season. 

Let’s take a look; Cas was suppose to be a short feature but fans loved both the character Cas, and the actor who portrayed him, Misha Collins so much that he become a series regular and since season 4 has found his way into the collective fandom heart as the third Winchester brother. (Sorry Adam!). Crowley has had an interesting story line as the writers have brought in both his son and mother-the witch Rowena, played by the vibrant Ruth Connell. This has added some depth  to some secondary characters and allowed the writers to explore additional story lines without focusing on Sam and Dean. We are all for this as it has been interesting to learn about Crowley more this season. But my question is do we know all there is to know about the liked 'King of Hell'. This attention away from the bread winners of the show makes me hopeful that a spin off can be worked for the beloved Wayward Daughters, Claire and Alex lead by cop/hunter Jodi Mills!

**Spoilers for season 12**

This season of Supernatural has seen some interesting plot points, but a prophetic one was when Cas killed the reaper Billie when Sam and Dean made a deal with her to get out of a tight spot. Before her untimely end Billie stated that going back on this deal would have cosmic consequences. We are still unclear about what that could mean. (Officially we are behind in viewing the latest episodes), Could it mean that going back on the deal with a reaper lead the way for Lucifer's kid to exist? (There are a boat load of questions with the introduction of that story line)! Also will the cosmic turbulence catch the attention of God? Will he weigh in? There is also the British Men of Letters. This story line is not loved by most fans, personally I think it fell flat, but I understand -from their point of view- how their methods and codes could "help", and why Mary could see the benefits of working with them. This apparently may prove costly!

What of Mary Winchester? Is she safe from what producers are teasing as a character death? Yes it’s great that Sam and Dean have their mother back, but it’s interesting dynamics. She's not playing a traditional mother role, the Mary that comes back settles into Hunter mode quite quickly and she seems to be more ruthless & dangerous then her sons’.  They all are adjusting to figuring out how to deal with her being back in the equation of things. Plus her dealings with the British Men of Letters, how quickly she was to join forces with them. I don't know how much I believe that she could stop hunting. Deep down she knew then and even more so now feels like there is no way out. This doesn't change the fact that she will fight for the protection of her family-her boys- till the end. 

That’s my vote, is something will happen at the end of the season that will threaten not only the lives of Sam and Dean but all American hunters, Mary will make the deal/ sacrifice to keep the boys from Heaven and Hell. So they can keep fighting the good fight. All along SPN has shown the essential need for Sam & Dean, I don't expect season 12 final to be any different, I am excited to see what comes next though. To the departed character that may be leaving us, fare thee well.

Do you have an idea of which character could be leaving Supernatural? Tune into the CW on May 18th, 2017 to find out!

Better the devil you know then the one you don’t!

Happy Hunting,

WC Alex Lightwood

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Station Breaks Album Review

Written by Erika

“The Station Breaks” is the self-titled debut album of fledgling group the Station Breaks, a musical collaboration between solo artist Jason Manns, and his two longtime friends, Rob Benedict and Billy Moran, both members of the popular Indie Rock group Louden Swain.  Touted by both Manns and Benedict as a “side project”, the group has quickly procured a large fan base, both in the United States and overseas in the United Kingdom, usually playing to sold out crowds. Rounding out the unique sound of the Station Breaks are bassist Cooper Appelt and drummer Rob Humphreys, also close friends of Manns’, both having been featured on his earlier albums, but more importantly, seasoned musicians in their own right. “The Station Breaks” is the result of a whirlwind year for Manns, who is currently riding the waves of success for his latest album, “Covers with Friends”, which hit #8 on iTunes, as well as for Benedict and Moran who are on the precipice of releasing their seventh album, “No time Like the Present”, with Swain.
The first track on the album, the Slightest Thing, opens with a solo guitar riff that can only be the lightning fast fingers of Billy Moran, setting the bar high for what’s to come. From this very first track it’s often difficult to discern where Manns’ voice begins and Benedicts’ ends so seamless are their harmonies. Weaving their voices together effortlessly, we are pulled into a brand new mix of edgy “Swain” guitar licks and  Manns’ heart and soul lyrical depth for a distinctive sound that can only be described as “The Station Breaks”, the group having “broken free”, if you will, of their usual genres to create a completely new vibe. Even the most diehard Manns fan won’t be disappointed by his departure from his lighter, ballad style rock, when they hear his unmistakable vocal range and longevity when it comes to holding the final note, mere mortals, aka the rest of us are already gasping for breath in anticipation of his ending the song long before his fermata is complete.
“Gone”, the second song on the album, could be classified as Country with its catchy lyrics, and toe tapping percussion pieces provided by the one and only Humphreys, affectionately called “Byrd” by the rest of the band, but it’s Moran’s musical voice, spoken solely through the strings of his guitar, that steals the spotlight as the third vocalist, and solidifying “Gone” as pure Indie gold. I feel the need to take the opportunity to point out the fact that “Gone” has a special following by certain Station Breaks fans akin to a cult that revolves exclusively around the lyric “I got a three Ibuprofen headache” that the casual listener missed entirely, and is now skipping back tracks to listen to just to see if they can find the lyric in question.
Dipping into a more subdued tonal atmosphere, Benedict helms the vocals for the third song “The Rest”, a song that has a timelessness to it, harkening back to simpler times as Benedict weaves an emotional tale with his natural soulful rasp. “The Rest” is a harmonious roller coaster that succinctly combines whining guitar, driving beat, and melancholy background vocals with Benedict’s impassioned pleas, building the song into multiple waves of rising passion, before releasing the listener to float back to reality as the music fades and Benedict’s voice wraps itself around you like a safety net.
Jumping back into the blended vocal style that will surly become synonymous with the Station Breaks, Manns and Benedict balance their harmonies perfectly, neither over powering the other, while Manns takes the lyrical wheel of “Free”. Despite the fact that the verses of the song lean toward the darker side of life, the music is uplifting and lighthearted, removing the harsh elements and beckoning the listener to sing along. Manns’ voice rings out as the light in the darkness inspiring hope and redemption at the end of the song, like a siren’s call with his amazing aptitude for holding a dramatically extended note, or what I have since dubbed the “Manns” note. 
“They Ain’t You” is another song that puts Manns in the vocal spotlight, aside from the perfectly crafted harmonizing with Benedict, it was also written by Manns. While it carries the traditional feel of a classic Jason Manns song, especially with the fantastic bass undertones that give Appelt his own unique voice on the track, it also has the richness of Moran’s electric guitar mixed with the acoustic that, much like the blending of voices in the Station Breaks, adds a new depth to Manns’ style of song writing; and the musical finale to “They Ain’t You” as “voiced” by Moran, Appelt, and Humphreys is hands down one of the best on the album at spotlighting the unequivocal talent of this trio. This is the track that will without a doubt appeal to any diehard Manns fan that for whatever unfathomable reason might not yet be won over as a Station Breaks fan, bringing them willingly into the fold.
The next song, “Just Walk Away”, starts with an instrumental piece that washes over the listener like a slow moving stream, only to be swept up into a vocal storm akin to raging rapids as Manns’ and Benedict’s voices intermingle succinctly like a well-oiled machine of tempo and melody, rising and falling in perfectly timed synchronization as the two seasoned leads switch effortlessly from front man to back-up harmonies and back again flawlessly. “Just Walk Away” showcases a complete lack of ego, while baring witness to the enormity of heartfelt pride and steadfast dedication that both Benedict and Manns breathe into their music collectively.

“Stowaway” is by far and away what I would define as the Station Breaks ”Rock Anthem”, and justly one of my personal favorites. Live performances of “Stowaway” usually start with Manns inviting the crowd to clap along before the entire group electrifies the air with supercharged guitar licks, heavy hitting percussion, and some of the catchiest lyrics on the entire album. The most amazing aspect of listening to “Stowaway” in digital download or cd form is that you lose none of the greatness of the live performance, the whine of Moran’s guitar, the thrum of bass like a musical pulse, and the fervent cries of both Manns and Benedict is every bit the equivalent to experiencing the song live in a small darkened club to the flicker of stage lights and soft ambiance of glow bracelets.
Slowing the tempo back down is “Not Giving My Heart Away”, one of three Station Breaks songs composed by guitarist Billy Moran. I’d like to pause momentarily in my review and take the opportunity to clarify that both Benedict and Manns play guitar throughout the Station Breaks album, but if you’re hearing the guitar ringing out like it needs no other accompaniments , like say vocals, more than likely it’s Moran’s fingertips at the helm. That being said, “Not Giving My Heart Away” has some truly exceptional riffs that enhance the dual vocal front, while showcasing Moran’s prowess as a true “guitar hero”. This is also another track that puts the spot light on the “should be trademarked” Manns note.
The next song has quickly found its way into my heart as my favorite Station Breaks song. “Old Neighborhood” is the type of “back to your roots” song that late greats Johnny Cash and Kenny Rogers made famous back in the day, when Country music wasn’t cool, but everyone listened and could relate to it because it talked about every day blue collar life, even if it wasn’t pretty. It’s the type of song that makes the listener feel just a little bit better about themselves, because it lets us all know that we aren’t alone in this struggle we call life, even when it’s gritty and it’s hard, it’s still worth the fight. The amazing opening guitar piece that repeats throughout “Old Neighborhood” is so unique, really nailing home the “old school” vibe the song preaches. The first time I heard this tune I felt like I was listening to Manns for the very first time, and every time thereafter remains the same.
If you were already a Jason Manns fan, then you are most likely already a fan of the second to last song on the album, “Hallelujah”, written by the great Leonard Cohen whom we lost this year. It’s no secret that “Hallelujah” has been performed by countless artists in a wide range of contrasting arrangements, for Manns’ own solo album Soul, he stripped the song down so that the vocals could take center stage. For the Station Breaks, he and Benedict stuck to that recipe of “simplicity is more” even with the addition of Benedict’s vocal accompaniment. While the focal point in the Station Breaks rendition is still predominantly the vocals and lyrics of the song, which are magical in and of themselves as written by Cohen, but now there’s just the right expanse of guitar married with a rising and falling percussion by Humphreys that rolls in like a distant thunder storm, raising gooseflesh as Manns and Benedict harmonize with infinite grace and combined vocal passion that creates a hauntingly beautiful performance not soon to be forgotten.
The last song, which is opened to the percussionist voice of Humphreys, is fronted by Benedict, but again, the harmonies are so seamless that while Manns is ever present, it’s often difficult to discern where the two voices overlap, and where each vocalist is singing solo. The fact that Benedict either wrote or co-wrote the lyrics for every Station Breaks song including “Autumn Back”, might lead one to think that the group is simply a lesser form of Louden Swain, but such is not the case at all, Manns and Benedict have taken the best aspects of their music along with co-contributor Moran and created something truly exceptional and distinct and is in no way a diminished version of anything either group has previously released.
In conclusion, if you are looking for mainstream music that sounds like everything else on the radio, keep looking, I’m sure you’ll find something else better suited to your taste; but if you are looking for the “Little Band that Could” that’s going to turn your world upside down with out of the box arrangements that are masterfully vocalized by two exceptional front men that are succinctly back up harmonizers, interlaced with the best damn guitar licks, bass tones, and percussion around, then by all means, download or purchase a hard copy of The Station Breaks and get lost in the best Americana Rock available today.