The project of Kyle Crane, Crane Like the Bird’s debut solo album is a bid to enter the prestigious pantheon of musicians who have come out of the shadows to make a case to be appreciated in their own right. Counting Owen Pallett (Arcade Fire, session work), St Vincent (Polyphonic Spree), and Bootsy Collins (James Brown) in its ranks said pantheon is certainly not a bad place to be.
To date, Crane is best known for playing live drums for Neko Case and M. Ward – he was also the drum double in Whiplash, for film trivia buffs out there. His address book is plump with some of the best: James Mercer of The Shins, Conor Oberst and Ward – as well as Peter Morén of Peter, Bjorn, and John and Sabina Sciubba of Brazilian Girls – all contribute to an album replete with prestige collaborations.
You can piece together what Crane Like the Bird sounds like from the artists above without too much difficulty. It’s a lovely twinkly, wistful, and fairly heart-on-sleeve collection of songs, that perhaps deserves more recognition than its self-released fate may afford it.
It’s tied together thematically by Crane’s father, a coastguard, who went down with his helicopter in 1997. This is best expressed through the bittersweet “Mendocino”, in collaboration with Luke Steele of Empire of the Sun. This number has something of Broken Social Scene at their best about it, with its driving refrain that willfully fails to extricate happy memory from a painful loss.
The other two strongest numbers on Crane Like the Bird – opener “Wishing Cap” (with James Mercer) and penultimate tub-thumper “Glass Half Full” recall The Smiths in their breathy vocals, elegant cascades of guitar work and bouncing bass. Well, if The Smiths grew up in an American suburb listening to power pop.
There’s hardly a weak moment on the whole thing; to level a criticism, that’s because it verges on conservative, with very few risks taken. Crane Like the Bird has some lovely songs, but with the exception of the aforementioned, one might struggle to recall one from the other. Indie MOR? An uncharitable view of the collaborator list would suggest so. On the other hand, in a generous mood, we might read that as something of a comment on the ephemerality of memory – even of those we love.
No matter, either way, you won’t mind if you’re able to dedicate a slim 37 minutes, lying in a darkened room or – perhaps more fittingly, in a grassy meadow, watching the clouds roll past.
Released: 18th January, Crane Like the Bird Records