Tragedy of Orestes and Electra

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Marketed and packaged entirely in French (and thus more often found under the title La Tragedie d'Oreste et Electre), Tragedy is the high water mark of Cranes' work in a specifically high-art realm. Originally worked on during the sessions for Population Four, this was completed and released separately earlier than that album. Combined with a limited edition run, it's even more of a curiosity, but a surprisingly rewarding one. The concept behind the work is something that in the hands of the wrong people would have been screamingly pretentious but Cranes carry out with surprising effectiveness. While the Greek myth that is the tragedy itself is thousands of years old, the work Cranes specifically adapt is French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre's adaptation of the story Les Mouches (or The Flies). An even more blood-chilling take on the story than the original, Les Mouches wrestles with individual responsibility and reaction to an intimate degree. The imaginary soundtrack created by the band partially recalls Cranes' earliest, dankest work, informed with industrial music touches, heavy echo, and clattering percussion loops, while elsewhere is mostly touched with haunting orchestrations familiar from songs like "Adoration" and "Watermark." Alison Shaw delivers lines from the play entirely in French; her vocal style is perhaps surprisingly suited for the spoken word work (and her accent sounds close to flawless as well). Her "little girl lost" sound so often focused on by favorable or unfriendly critics is perfectly appropriate here, given both the unnerving sonics and the story line itself (involving as it does a brother and sister revenging themselves upon a mother and stepfather). Highlights from the release include "Danse D'Electre," a gentle piece that turns into a haunting wash of ambient sound, and the understated chills of "Au Temple," one of Shaw's best vocal turns on the album.