‘Particles and Waves’ sifts through chemistry and more
As a green-haired, black lipstick-wearing 15-year-old who hunted down every possible item I knew of that had anything to do with bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Cure, there were a couple other noncommercial artists I came across during my many used record store expeditions in the early1990s. One such band that struck my interest delivered twinkling, soft verses punctuated by meaningful distorted guitar clatter choruses and was characterized by the vocals of a grown woman who sounded like she was 5 years old.Once I read somewhere that my long-standing hero (Cure frontman) Robert Smith was a fan of Cranes, I was even more intrigued.Cranes came together in England in the last 80s as a collaboration between brother-sister duo Alison (vocals) and Jim Shaw (drums). Their music, all made very distinctive by Allison’s falsetto vocals, was hypnotizing and, well … a little spooky.
After its first two albums, “Self-Non-Self” and “Wings of Joy,” the band produced an album called “Forever,” on which Smith remixed one of the most striking songs, named in Cranes’ inadvertent tradition of one-word titles – “Jewel.” The Shaw duo and the transient guitar and bass contributors knocked out another album, “Loved,” which, in spite of the twinkly, childlike singing, had some heavy guitar and drum bursts. Undeniably, despite its darkness, it was pretty rocking.Another album was produced a few years ago, “Population Four,” on which Cranes seemed to be returning to their roots with slower guitar strains, symbol-heavy introductions, bizarre keyboard progressions and hiatuses in mid-song and the ever-commanding whispery vocals.After that, Cranes, like many the beloved Goth bands that allowed me to survive my teenage years, fell off my radar.
That is, until I received a copy of “Particle and Waves,” a new album released by Cranes in September on Manifesto record label. I won’t lie to you. To the untrained ear, this album is weird. Shaw, who is surely well into her 30s by now, still doesn’t sound a day older than 7. For those unfamiliar with Cranes, you will likely find her singing style, upon first listen, downright ghostly. Don’t expect to decipher the lyrics upon first listen, either. Or upon fifth listen. At least one of the songs, I’m pretty sure, is not sung in English. Pretty sure.The Shaws claim to be exploring the meaning of matter with this collection of 10 songs (the CD also comes with a four-song live DVD), as in, how a particle in itself is just a vibrating wave if scrutinized carefully enough. They are slow songs, and relaxing. “Astronauts” sounds like the intro to a Tim Burton film, with an entrancing pouncing high-key piano progression. Although the wandering, steady beats can sound depressing at times, the words, when you can understand them, are about birds flying, streams tumbling, life plunging along in its coldly scientific way and about relatively grounded, if not sometimes uplifting, subjects.Perhaps this collection of particles has a hidden agenda as a clever mind-numbing device. Agenda or not, “Particles and Waves,” like Cranes’ history of music, is oddly hypnotizing.
Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext.14632, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado