Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Michigan State University Student Radio

Impact 89FM | WDBM-FM

Ghostly Breath | “Focus Breathe” by Cranes


When I first stumbled upon Cranes, I was immediately taken aback by Alison Shaw’s distinctly high-pitched, almost childlike, whispered vocals — especially when juxtaposed over the gloomy alternative rock my ears had found themselves fixated on. Her vocals are compared to those of many other dream pop vocalists, such as Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins, and normally I’d consider them much weaker when compared, yet they work beautifully within the context of Cranes’ nightmarish debut and sophomore efforts. They are exposed and weak, but supported by biting drum hits and inhumane factory soundscapes. The combination of the two drastically different timbres is what makes Cranes stand out in my mind; their sound is something that could’ve only come out of the musical soup of ideas left behind by the post-punk musical revolution of the ‘80s.

Cranes was able to coalesce different elements of local musical innovations into something wholly new. Melding together dream pop vocals, sparse gothic instrumentation, industrial robot drum rhythms and effect-ridden shoegaze guitars placed them in a labeless gray area: an amalgamation of the creative explosion that occurred throughout the ‘80s.

Their sound has changed throughout their career, from the more pop-rock-oriented yet distinctly gloomy Forever in 1993 to the light and fluffy ambience of Particles & Waves in 2004. Self-Non-Self was the band’s sophomore effort. It was a mini-LP consisting of six songs that was released in 1989 through a local record label in England called Bite Back!

The project relays a more industrial direction that the band was experimenting with at the time, hosting an unsettling and encroaching atmosphere. “Focus Breathe” is my personal favorite track off the record, not only because it delivers on the haunting atmosphere of the rest of Self-Non-Self, but because it does so with a tight dance groove and Shaw’s eerie whispers. 

The song’s atmosphere is set within the first 30 seconds, with a reversed bass drum holding the rhythm in place. The reversed effect is drenched in reverb, which communicates a deep, oscillating sound, almost like the cyclical whirring of a giant industrial fan. That airy mechanical sound is supported by a repetitive, echoey guitar line and Shaw’s whispered spelling of “focus.”

The groove picks up with punchy, syncopated bass guitar notes and harsh, ghostly wheezing. Shaw’s crooning rises above the head-bopping rhythm, which is supported by a flat chanted harmony. The momentum melts away for a brief return of the drums’ cavernous echo before the bass and guitar return with a powerful, overdriven sound. Shaw ends the song with a hushed breath as the guitar dissipates. 

The early sound of Cranes is perfect for this season. Walking to the bus stops in East Lansing, with the sky a darkened gray and light showers painting the sidewalks a deeper shade of brown, I am consumed by their eeriness.

Luckily enough, Cranes just released a mini-LP of their John Peel Sessions recordings on June 2, 2023. It includes “Focus Breathe” and material from other EPs and their first LP, Wings of Joy. These songs are a bit easier to listen to than the grating soundscapes of Self-Non-Self, yet they retain the gloomy and spooky atmosphere prevalent throughout the beginning of their career. 

If you like classic goth rock or dream pop, Cranes are sure to pique your interest. Give them a listen on Halloween night!

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About the Contributor
Ryan Beylerian, Writer
Ryan Beylerian (he/him) is a junior at MSU studying English and Graphic Design. He spent the last two years taking art classes in community college and listening to a lot of different music. He’s open to listening to any kind of music, as long as it’s good! Some of his favorite acts include The Sundays, Kate Bush, The Cranberries, The Smiths and The Smashing Pumpkins. “Ma meeshka mow skwoz.” - Mr. Bungle

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