Talented drummer Kyle Crane (he’s toured with Neko Case, M. Ward and was the drum double in Whiplash – we’re sure he knows the difference between rushing and dragging) is set to self-release the debut album from his Crane Like the Bird project.
Kyle’s father, Jeff, was a coast guard lieutenant out of Humboldt Bay, CA, whose helocopter went down during a search-and-rescue mission in 1997. His untimely death shattered Kyle’s family and this album documents both the time leading up to the accident and the lasting effects of their grief. It’s such a tribute that even the album cover is a photo of Kyle’s mother throwing a rose out to sea at the crash site.
James Mercer from The Shins is the first of many guests to make an appearance on the opener, ‘Wishing Cap’. This is two-and-a-half minutes of optimistic indie-pop hooks with sad lyrics about finding a shoebox in a much-missed person’s room and how you’d do ‘anything to feel close to you, anything to feel forever’. ‘Now’ has a sparser sound and veers more into emotional Americana with big-sounding drums and ‘Nicole’ (featuring Band of Horses Ben Bridwell) is an ode to Kyle’s sister and their shared interests growing up, including ‘The Neverending Story and Willow’). There’s real pride and love shining through as Kyle’s words sum up how much respect he has for how his sister has navigated life’s various challenges while the music falls somewhere between Guided By Voices penchant for melody and Grandaddy’s space-pop.
The largely instrumental ‘Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park’ veers towards sun-tinged psychedelia and is the kind of song you could imagine being blasted out from all kinds of festival stages. Empire of the Sun’s Luke Steele makes an appearance on ‘Mendocino’, which starts off sounding like a distant cousin of Pulp’s ‘Do You Remember the First Time?’ before then settling into a more ambient country sound that brilliantly recalls Luke’s very special old band, The Sleepy Jackson. It has a catchy chorus amidst the otherworldy noises and mentions the date of Kyle’s father’s death before then summing up one of the most difficult parts of the grieving process: ‘If I die before I wake, will you toss me in the violent sea?’
It’s always a joy to hear Conor Oberst’s voice and ‘When I See’ has the feel of his stripped-back ‘Salutations’ album with its compelling lyrics: ‘You and me were the first to arrive, the last to leave, wedding white and emerald green in the cold air’. It then takes a dark turn as Conor and Kyle begin to ponder mortality itself: ‘Sometimes I worry that Heaven is just in our minds, a lie to keep our hearts from dying. I hope it’s real ’cause I WANT TO SEE YOU’. The song has finger-picked guitar and the poigant question of ‘When I see your face, will I be older than you?’ is repeated over and over again. The nine-and-a-half-minute ‘Kaleidoscope’ finds Brazilian Girls Sabina Sciubba bringing a touch of electronica to proceedings while Brad Mehldau throws in flourishes of avant-garde jazz, a piano interlude and French spoken-word samples.
Following this is the three-minute indie rock of ‘Glass Half Full’ with its catchy bass line and optimistic vocals about how beautiful the sunrise can be before the record finishes with ‘The Painter’. While M Ward plays trademark notes in the background and ‘Sgt Pepper’s’-esque string effects and harmonies come to the fore, the song talks about the heartbreaking things that happen when a family loses a husband and father: selling the house, deciding what to do with a wedding ring.
Powerful, honest and emotional, Crane Like the Bird is a fitting tribute to one of the most important figures in Kyle’s life and one that can act as comfort to anyone going through a similar situation.