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Cranes - Particles & Waves Print E-mail
Tuesday, 13 September 2005


Particles & Waves
format: 16-bit stereo CD + video DVD
label: Dadaphonic/Manifesto
release year: 2005
performance: 7
sound: 8
reviewed by: John Sutton-Smith

Image Vocalist Alison Shaw and her brother Jim have been creating their classical-influenced, meditative rockscapes for more than 15 years, even before Wings of Joy, Cranes’ groundbreaking major label debut in 1991, was recognized as a masterful piece of British pop music.

Particles and Waves is their long awaited seventh studio album release, their first in more than four years, since 2001’s Future Songs. It is in some ways a culmination of their recent more cerebral work that plays off Alison’s delicate yet powerful voice.

Everything from Brian Eno to Cocteau Twins to Aphex Twin can be discerned in the cavalcade of whoops and loops on "Avenue A" and the swirling high piano part of "Astronauts," or in the ghostly, steady drumbeat and bass line on "Here Comes the Snow" and the sparkle and shimmer on "Far from the City." Perhaps the album’s biggest surprise is on "Every Town" where, beneath the gentle electric guitar, it is Jim Shaw’s raspy, slightly hurt voice instead of Alison's instantly recognizable caress. It is in fact quite a shock, but it illustrates marvelously that Cranes still have the ability to try something unexpected, and have it work beautifully.

The “Live in London” DVD extra contains four performances – the first two from a concert that give a good sense of their fairly trippy live show: slow, but moving, and colored with a blue psychedelic swath (think Avalon Ballroom circa ’66) and Ali Shaw’s decidedly magnetic vocal as she softly wails across the stylized, ever-dissolving stream of imagery that accompanies their moody, controlled version of the opening “Fragile.”

Cranes songs creep up deceptively and envelop one, and though much of the photography is home video, Hi-8 or found footage, the editing is sympathetic and supportive of the close-up shots of Shaw as she is transported by the vocal mantra of “Future Song.” “Flute Song” and “Far Away” are taken from other appearances and are also interwoven with dreamscapes and virtual videosity that fill in the gaps.

Cranes' continual refining and reworking of their sound over the years has become somewhat of a hallmark for the group. Alison Shaw's distinct, childlike vocals remain an immediate calling card, and the music she and her brother Jim create always seems to find new shape and direction. The Shaws' interest now lies in moody electronic music as much as guitar-based efforts, and often the combination produces the best results. It's the almost mantra-like way that they work with electronic melodies that gives Particles & Waves its distinctive sound and sensibility.

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