A note to The Cranes: While a record label’s refusal to support an album is sometimes due to neglect or personal vendetta, sometimes it’s because the record is just plain bad. Population Four was a bad record. A very bad record. Such a bad record that I doubted you’d ever recover from it. Instead of throwing a fit and stomping away from Dedicated for not sinking a lot of money into promoting it, you should have thanked them for not pointing out to people what a remarkably bad record you’d made.
Happily, Future Songs is much, much better.
At their best, the brother-and-sister tandem of Jim and Alison Shaw occupy a unique dream world all their own. Jim’s instrumentation can float and swirl or become sinuous and downright nasty while Alison’s vocals are truly otherworldly. Sometimes sweet and innocent, sometimes confused and battered by Jim’s walls of musical noise, and sometimes projecting a waifish sexuality. The Cure’s Robert Smith proclaimed them the best band in the world a few years back, earning them instant notoriety in the black velvet and white face set, though I tend to think their appeal should stretch a little farther than that.
Future Songs is the band’s first album as a duo, the first for their own label, and as mentioned above, the first since the disastrous Population Four. It is also a resounding return to their peak form as laid out in their classic Loved and Forever albums. The production has never been as rich and full on a Cranes record as it is here and the songwriting and instrumentation stands up to their very best. Aging goths weaned on Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and stacks of Love and Rockets records will go wild over the atmospheres here, as should fans of Mogwai.
The make or break issue with any Cranes record is what you think of Alison’s voice. My opinion’s above, but many justifiably tend to hear only a six year-old British girl… with a speech impediment. I find that quality part of the charm, but others disagree.
It’s beginning to seem as though Cranes are essentially a one trick pony, recycling a lot of the same textures and structures for their songs. But when they’re on their game as they are here, it’s one mighty impressive trick.
Written by Chris Brown.