Review Summary: The transformation from alternative rock band to ambient mood music is complete.
I love being a hardcore music fan and always have. There are probably hundreds of thousands of bands out there just waiting to be stumbled across, and because of the internet, it doesn’t take any effort to do so. Even more exciting than that is the level of experimentation and genre blending that exists today. I’m almost willing to bet that if you can think of any two genres, there is some band that is actively trying to unify them in some sort of working manner. One such band trying to carve their own niche with a little bit of genre blending is the Cranes with their combination of ambient electronics and mellow alternative rock.
For those that have been following this band you’ll know that they have gone through a few musical identities in their twenty-year career, but none of those identities have any bearing here. When bands release self-titled albums late in their history it is usually to symbolize a new musical beginning and that is exactly what we’re presented with again. Beginning with 2001’s Future Songs
the Cranes started to mix electronics with their mellow alternative rock, and this album is the full realization of that direction. Almost all of the music is now based on strange, soothing synth melodies that are often unaccompanied by a beat of any kind. If you were to imagine the lighter, less oppressive side of Aphex Twin
’s Selected Ambient Works
combined with female vocals you would have a good idea of what to expect.
What you probably wouldn’t expect is what those female vocals actually sound like. Vocalist, Alison Shaw, has the most child-like voice I’ve ever heard from a full-grown woman. Her vocals are so soft and delicate that they almost float over the synth loops and strange ambient noises. Sometimes her voice actually becomes so soothing that it just blends in with the rest of the music. This vocal trait doesn’t allow for a lot of truly memorable moments throughout the album, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. One of the more instantly memorable songs is the ethereal, “Panorama”. “Panorama” is able to separate itself from the majority of the album by containing one of the few recognizable choruses and is delivered entirely in French over a bed of lush electronics and a simple, organic beat; but these standout moments are few and far between.
There are very few of these moments because this isn’t an album of choruses or prominent musical hooks, it’s an album focused on a dreamy mood. Due to the mood that’s being created, there is very little that is going to instantly catch someone’s ear or remain with them after the music has faded away. This isn’t a flaw in the album or in the song writing because it’s obvious that this was intentional, but it does make the first few listens a little uninteresting. The very structure of the songs makes this entirely unavoidable, but it really becomes a non-issue with a little bit of attention and repetition. Once enough repetition is achieved, the lush electronics, subtle acoustics, and delicate vocals of Alison will begin to shine the way that they were intended. Only then will songs such as “Feathers” really begin to impact the listener with its meandering (in a good way) synth melody, shoegaze guitar sound, and peaceful vocals.
The Cranes have done a lot in their career and this is surprisingly the most challenging direction so far. The music almost comes off as formless as its subtle melodies float out of the speakers. The delicate vocals of Alison Shaw only serve to compliment this dreamlike feeling, but much like a dream it’s easily forgettable with lack of attention. This album is going to require listeners that are willing to give multiple listens and that don’t mind having to be the one following the music, because this music isn’t here to instantly hook them. For those types of people, the Cranes self-titled album is a thoroughly enjoyable listen that will allow them to drift with the music as it seemingly takes them nowhere in particular.