I had a bit of trouble deciding what to write about today, simply because of the tremendous amount of music which I keep fresh in my mind and relevant in my life. After much internal debate I settled on a band about which I don’t know much and I can’t say I adore, but which has made a significant impact on my perceived musical routine this year.
Cranes is a surprisingly old band. They got started somewhere around 1986, which is amazing, considering how ferociously up-to-date and visceral their music sounded even then. I should explain that, for me, the ’80s feel like a silicone and silicate wasteland of musicians falling in love with artificial sounds and methods which rarely hit the spot and manage to stay away from sounding gimmicky. The only other example of an excellent band from the ’80s I can come up with right now is The Cocteau Twins. Of course there were several other figures of note which I can respect without particularly understanding (such as Kate Bush for example), but my general feeling about the decade stands. Nevertheless, Cranes blew a wide and refreshing hole in my theory the first time I heard them. Seeing that they’re a pretty recent discovery, I can’t say I’ve gone over their entire discography, so I’m not acutely aware of their evolution, but listening to one of their first albums and fast-forwarding to 2008, there definitely seems to be a red line going mostly unbroken. Much less anger now, but much more refinement and subtlety, all placed under a generous, shady, crimson colored umbrella of mood.
The self-titled 2008 album seems to be the most subdued work of theirs I’ve heard, a long way removed from the savage, sorrowful “Starblood”. Gone are the limping, broken drum lines, in favor of textured and spacious sonic enclosures. They seem to have gone from dusk to dawn, if the comparison serves. However I feel that the drama is still there, but shifted from content to structure. Their recent songs begin and end abruptly, change pace midway, so far as to seem sometimes undecided, until one remembers that Cranes have never had a very stable, cookie-cutter approach to crafting their soundscapes. One needs to be patient and in a certain state of mind to see it though, since I think the band also has a make-it-or-break-it characteristic. The vocals are, no doubt, highly distinctive – so much so that I don’t deny the possibility of them being extremely polarizing. This is only a theory, but I suspect that’s why this amazing band hasn’t enjoyed mainstream popularity to my knowledge. Alison Shaw has been infusing Crane songs with a childlike quality, simultaneously innocent and eerie for over twenty years and for this resilience alone I figure the band deserves some respect. To stumble upon a concept which mops the floor with Coco Rosie and be confronted with the tremendous difference in popularity level these two bands enjoy is one of the more frustrating aspects of being constantly on the prowl for surprising musical discoveries. But I digress…
Cranes provide music to explore familiar places by. What I mean is that the feeling I get while listening to their songs is that there’s a film over reality, a film which can crack and under which objects relate to each-other very differently. Put your headphones on in one of those unsure seasons, walk around at an unsure time of day and realize that you can in fact convince yourself there’s a way of looking at things as if you’re a fish inside a little round fishbowl. Smiles get distorted, the reflections in shop windows don’t quite correspond to what they should and your senses might even exchange priorities leading to odd moments when you realize you’ve been following a scent for the past few minutes and that you never actually do that normally. The world grows under the Cranes’ influence, space expands, the distance between things swells and you get to see them in amazing detail. The first time I experienced this effect was one evening in spring, when I found myself staring through a dentist cabinet window left conveniently uncovered, as two doctors were working on a patient. The man in the chair looked back, our eyes met, and I left, but I kept thinking about that moment ever since. It’s like a magazine cut-out which I carry around in front of my eyes every time I think about that night, and it branches out into a myriad possibilities. What if I had stood there, taking notes of what I saw. Would the doctors have reacted? Would they have believed the patient trying to mumble that there’s a creep outside the window studying their every move? What would it have been like, had our roles been reversed? Innocent and eerie, remember?
There’s a wealth of poetry jumbled up in words when one tries to describe music in general, but somehow Cranes doesn’t directly activate that mechanism in my mind. I suppose their minimal, almost surgical approach is enough to keep you grounded, in opposition to the apparent dreaminess of their music. Cranes are clinical anatomists of the dreamlike background of reality. They’ll take you there but they won’t let you linger. They’ll cut you out as soon as you start to settle in. To my ears, Cranes patrol the frontier of the skin.