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Cranes


Country of origin:

England

Type of music generally:

A kind of industrial/experimental ethereal music; their later music becomes more ethereal and acoustic.

Status:

Most recent release, Cranes (2008)

See also:

The Cranes Dadaphonic site

A Cranes fan site, another

Comparisons:

Alison Shaw's voice is like Claire Grogan's (the lead singer for Altered Images—a very babyish voice). Hard to find a comparison for their overall sound—perhaps a way more industrial sounding Cocteau Twins and a very likely predecessor for many shoegazer bands like My Bloody Valentine and all. (Neile)

Covers/own material:

Own

General comments:

Music is classical/alternative in flavour. The combination of that with Alison Shaw's baby voice is unusual to say the least. Probably an acquired taste, but I loved it right away. Like someone with a punk sensibility taking the current obsession for babyish female vocals and undiscernible lyrics to its logical (or maybe illogical) conclusion. (Neile)

I've always tried to describe their music with the phrase "ambient dissonance." I find Cranes' music hypnotic, but definitely not soporific. (jwermont@sonic.net)

The basic style is a flowing, but often dissonant, style of music which concentrates less on the song itself, but more the sound, which is often multi-layered. (afinney@ozonline.com.au)

Comments about live performance:

The first time I saw Cranes was during the Forever tour. That show was primarily interesting due to the fact I meet Jim and Alison Shaw, the songwriting siblings at the center of the band. The show itself was kind of disappointing. It was marred by technical difficulties—at one point the monitors overheated, effectively causing an unforeseen intermission. But even worse, Alison suffered from extreme stage fright, and had to strain to be heard. All of that was corrected in last night's performance. There was only one glitch at the beginning of the opening version of "Cloudless". The sound afterwards was really good—they didn't bury Shaw's fragile little-girl-lost vocals. And Alison has developed some stage presence. O.K., she's not a Natalie Merchant or Siouxsie Sioux—no patented, trademarked moves—but she doesn't hide, either. Dressed in a halter top and a cotton print Indian-style skirt, she was relaxed and looked very comfortable on stage. While singing—in fine voice, it should be noted—she had her eyes closed, and did a little hand-pantomime thing, and in-between songs she smiled and joshed with the audience. Songs from all of their cds were covered=="To Be", "Jewel", "Adrift", "Future Song", "Loved", and a majestic "Adoration", in the twin styles that Cranes cover—ambient and ethereal folk or looming goth verging on the industrial. Catch them if you can. (4/02, ethereal_lad@livejournal.com)

a divergent opinion here: i thought the sound was by no means good; there was a lot of low-range mud, and especially, there was a sharp eq boost (i think at the 220Hz low A but don't hold me to that) that resonated nastily whenever anyone sang or played near it—it did a lot of damage to the intelligibility of shaw's vocals (not in the sense of making out actual words, which is pretty near impossible, but in the sense of losing consonants, sibilants, and the tonal qualities that make her voice interesting to start with, in a swamp of hum.)
     shaw's sense of pitch is generally kinda weird, weird enough that i'm not inclined to fault most of it—she does what she does, and you like it or you don't—but in "lilies," which was sung in places where the record has more of a spoken/sing-song approach, the chorus notes seemed painfully off in places—maybe she couldn't hear herself very well when the band got loud.
     also, for my taste, they were way too reliant on sequencers. a guy playing keyboard is one thing, but when the main hook of the song is coming from a tape loop...well, i dunno. the new drummer is really good (and the drum sound was a bright spot in the mix), the guitar player is pretty good; i would rather have heard some of the keyboard hooks adapted to guitar and the looped percussion stuff played on real drums.
     amused by: a. shaw apparently lugged a guitar through customs to strap it on and play one chord for about four bars—well, at least it could be discerned in the mix. j. shaw's guitar rig included a marshal 4x12 cabinet angled back at him (like a monitor) a little weird, but pretty damn gutsy given that much of the time he was playing a hollow body instrument.
     (i had seen cranes once before, on the loved tour, and thought a. shaw's stage presence then was comparable to last night—not forceful, or especially interesting, but not projecting deer-in-the-headlights terror or anything. i remember liking that show a lot better than last night, but then, i was probably drunk.) (4/02, dmw@mwmw.com)

Recommended first album:

Loved

Recordings include:


Self-Non-Self

Release info:

1989, 1992—Dedicated, U.K.—Dedicated 006

Availability:

Hard to find in the U.S.

Ecto priority:

Recommended for lovers of Cranes

Produced by:

Cranes

Comments:

This seems to be a re-release of early recordings, and is louder and more industrial-sounding than their later work. The disjunction between the banging, hard-edged music and Alison Shaw's sweet, ethereal babyish voice is at its strongest here. Not for the faint of heart—but I definitely find it interesting and listenable. (Neile)

Wings of Joy

Release info:

1991—BMG (U.S.)—3007-2-R; Dedicated (U.K.)

Availability:

Seems widely available but likely now is out of print

Ecto priority:

Recommended for those who are interested in hearing something very different, and who have a tolerance of baby voices.

Group members:

Jim Shaw—drums, piano, guitar
Mark Francombe—guitar
Matt Cope—guitar
Alison Shaw—vocals, bass

Produced by:

Cranes

Comments:

Maybe I'm weird, but I think this is cool. Minimal driving crunchy-loud background music, with a baby voice swirling in front of it. One of my favourites of theirs. (Neile)

Tomorrow's Tears (limited edition ep with interview)

Release info:

1992—Dedicated/BMG—RDJ 62247-2

Availability:

A hard-to-find promo in a limited edition of 2000

Ecto priority:

Recommended for dedicated Cranes fans

Group members:

Jim Shaw—drums, piano, guitar
Mark Francombe—guitar
Matt Cope—guitar
Alison Shaw—vocals, bass

Produced by:

Cranes

Comments:

This has two songs from Wings of Joy ("Tomorrow's Tears" and "Sixth of May") as well as two previously unreleased tracks ("Casa Blanca" and "Dreamless") along with an interview done just as they were beginning to get a reputation. Interesting, not essential, though I do very much like the two previously unreleased songs. (Neile)

Forever

Release info:

1993—Dedicated; BMG in U.S.—DED 07863; BMG 66212-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Cranes fans

Group members:

Jim Shaw—drums, piano, guitar
Mark Francombe—guitar
Matt Cope—guitar
Alison Shaw—vocals, bass

Guest artists:

"the falseharmonics"—cellos, violins and violas

Produced by:

Cranes

Comments:

Getting ever more interesting musically. "Jewel" is a wonderful song by any standards. A little lighter and dreamier and less noisy in sound than their earlier work. (Neile)

A bit uneven to me, but so was Wings of Joy. (vickie@enteract.com)


loved

Release info:

1994—Dedicated (U.K.); Arista (U.S.)—07822-18769-2 (Arista)

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for anyone intrigued by the description of the band.

Produced by:

Cranes

Comments:

The band's musicianship just gets better and better, and so does their integration of Alison Shaw's strange, babyish voice. In this album it seems to come together particularly well. (Neile)

lilies (promo ep)

Release info:

1994—Dedicated (U.K.)

Availability:

Hard-to-find promo

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Cranes fans

Produced by:

Cranes

Comments:

a promo disc featuring flood's mix of "lilies" and an assortment of tracks from previous releases. most interesting to me are "brighter", "casa blanca" and "leave her to heaven" which are from british eps from before cranes' first american album, wings of joy. there's also one previously unreleased track called "shine like stars". a most nifty promo indeed! one thumb up. (woj@smoe.org)

La Tragédie d'Oreste et Électre

Release info:

1996—Dedicated—DED CD 024

Availability:

Can be found in the U.S. in places that carry indies and imports

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for fans of the strange

Group members:

Jim Shaw—music
Alison Shaw—reads the extracts of the texts

Comments:

This is not a typical Cranes release. It's based on Sartre's play, Les Mouches, which in turn is based on the tale of Orestes and Electra. The music is soundtrack-like, and the vocals are swatches from Sartre's play—spoken, never sung. Nevertheless, given a meditative mood (and perhaps a working knowledge of French), it can be intense and powerful. (maeldun@i-2000.com)

This is a strange disc—not even strange like the Cranes usual stuff. No singing, but some spoken word and some incredible music. I love this when I'm in the right mood. (Neile)


Population Four

Release info:

1997—Dedicated—6702-44005-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Cranes or indie music fans

Group members:

Alison Shaw—vocals, guitar
Jim Shaw—guitar, bass, keyboards Mark Francombe—bass, keyboards
Manu Ros—drums

Guest artists:

Mark Freegard—piano on track 6, background vocals on track 4

Produced by:

Mark Freegard

Comments:

I found the new Cranes to be disappointing—they seem to have largely dumped the sound that made them so unique in the first place—that heavy industrial type sound with Alison's childlike voice quavering above it (I can even actually understand Alison on this one!). (lcliffor@bbn.com)

Cranes got a little more melodic and even have a couple of acoustic songs. I think this album shows signs of growth and makes for a far more casually listenable album—though that may be what some Cranes' fans object too about this. I like it—all the best features of the Cranes and more melodic, too. Delightful. (Neile)

Hmmm, I was initially disappointed in it, after absolutely adoring their previous release (and I don't mean the Sartre piece). (pmcohen@voicenet.com) I was really disappointed in Population Four. They seem to be trying to make the sound more commercial (I hear traces of The Breeders and Alanis Morissette in it) and the compromises aren't working. There are a couple of songs I like ("Angel Bells" and "Fourteen") but overall this CD stinks. On the other hand I could see this CD being more well liked among the more acoustically inclined ectoids. (dbucak@netaxs.com)


Future Songs

Release info:

2001—Dadaphonic—DADA 001

Availability:

U.K.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Cranes fans or fans of beautiful melancholic music

Group members:

Jim Shaw—guitars, programming, bass, drums, samples
Ali Shaw—vocals, guitar

Guest artists:

Tom Hazel—additional guitar on track

Produced by:

Jim Shaw and Alison Shaw

Comments:

The character Drusilla is one of the most appealing (or appalling) recurring characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel. A prim Victorian beauty, prone to "visions" and with penchant for dolls, she is easily one of the deadliest of nemeses in the contained world of the programs. In spite of her little girl airs and precious affectations, she's stark raving mad and void of morality. Cruelty and the hunt for blood, for her, is at best a child's game and its worst an aesthetic pursuit—the undead's version of needlepoint. Cranes have always encompassed that dichotomy. Jim Shaw's compositions vacillate between pastoral minimalism and grinding urban cacophony. Singer Alison Shaw's voice, a love-it-or-hate-it little-girl squeak, is either gothic and spooky or uncomfortably twee. Future Songs is a more ambient affair, adding a healthy dose of electronica into the familiar terrain of minor chords, gentle guitars and stalwart drumming. The strain of classicism, missing in the previous release, Population 4, makes a welcome return, in particularly in the sampled organ and flute tones on the appropriately titled "Flute Song." The title track is highly reminiscent of 1991's "Watersong", which isn't necessarily a slam—the band is fond of reprises. Several pieces here reach for a glistening Cocteau Twins-like beauty; others, like the brooding "Submarine" are eerie and perverse—Alison sounds like a child murderer against the industrial-lite background. Future Songs will not win Cranes any fans; but it satisfies those already entranced. (ethereal_lad@livejournal.com)


Submarine ep

Release info:

2002—Instinct Records—INS600-2

Availability:

See Dadaphonic website for availability

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Cranes fans

Group members:

Jim Shaw—guitars, programming, bass, drums, samples
Ali Shaw—vocals, guitar

Guest artists:

Remixes by Saru, Paul Smith, Tripnotic, Greg Long, Jack Dangers, Thin Men

Comments:

This is an ep with four remixes of "Submarine", 3 of "Don't Wake Me Up" and 1 of "Driving in the Sun" from Future Songs.

Live in Italy

Release info:

2003—Dadaphonic—DADA 002

Availability:

See Dadaphonic website for availability

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended for Cranes fans

Group members:

Jim Shaw—guitars
Ali Shaw—vocals, guitar

Guest artists:

Jon Callender—drums
Paul Smith—keyboards, guitar
Ben Baxter—bass, lily finger

Comments:

If you've ever wondered what the Cranes would sound like live, this is the album for you. It was recorded in various places on a European tour in October 2002, and has songs from throughout their career. A lovely listening experience. (Neile)

Particles and Waves

Release info:

2005—Dadaphonic—DADA 003

Availability:

See Dadaphonic website for availability

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Cranes fans

Group members:

Jim Shaw—guitars
Ali Shaw—vocals, guitar

Comments:

This is a little more uneven musically than I might have hoped. This is a pretty darn mellow album for the Cranes, frequently ambient-sounding and I'm beginning to understand why others have complained about this new direction in their sound—parts actually sounded a little generic. While I still enjoyed tracks like "K56", I found "Astronauts" a snore. It's shocking to me that a band as edgy as I think of Cranes being can lose me to dreamland. Then there are the very silly lyrics on "Light Song", even if the song is immediately decontructed before it comes back around to repeat them. Just not as interesting or compelling as their previous work to me. (Neile)

Further Info:

Contact: Dadaphonic, PO Box 144, Southsea, Hants., PO5 2PY, U.K.

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DISCLAIMER: Comments and reviews in the Ectophiles' Guide are excerpted from the ecto mailing list or volunteered by members of the list. They are the opinions of music enthusiasts, not professional music critics.

Entry last updated 2012-02-20 18:04:30.
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