Particles & Waves

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Cranes' continual refining and reworking of their sound over the years has become a hallmark -- while Alison Shaw's distinct, childlike vocals remain an immediate calling card, the music she and her brother Jim create finds new shapes and paths. In that regard, Particles & Waves is both a logical continuation from Future Songs, the album that reestablished them as a working band, and its own lovely, mysterious self-contained effort. The sense that the Shaws' interest now lies in moody electronic music as much as guitar-based efforts has only grown, and often the combinations of the two sides make the best results. "K56" has both a brisk almost jangle and a layering of soft chimes and tones. But it's the almost mantra-like way that they work with electronic melodies -- an extension of their seemingly simple but powerful, obsessive work from earlier -- that gives Particles & Waves its distinct feeling. Everything from Brian Eno's late-'70s work to later avatars like Aphex Twin can be heard in moments like the loops on "Avenue A" and the swirling high piano part of "Astronauts." Where the air of the band's earlier work comes in strongest is more by way of contemplative suggestion -- the slow, steady drums and low bass on "Here Comes the Snow," the sparkle and shimmer on "Far from the City." Perhaps the most surprising song is "Every Town" -- due not only to its downright gentle electric guitar chime (it's probably the warmest song the band's ever done) but the identity of the singer, Jim Shaw. Hearing his raspy, slightly hurt voice instead of Alison's instantly recognizable singing is quite literally a bit of a shock, but it shows again that Cranes do still have the ability to surprise and try something unexpected, and have it work beautifully.

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