Sleeping Cranes - Atman EP
Record Label: Unsigned
Release Date: August 10, 2010
He plays folk music, so you better believe he’s the next Bob Dylan. He’s far ahead of the game as a lyricist, so he will be the next Conor Oberst. He’s soft and gentle in delivery, so he’s the next Bon Iver.
Of course, Dylan suffers often from hurriedly simple songs, Oberst suffers from (or gimmicks with) his voice, and Justin Vernon suffers from Kanye West. Likewise, A.J. Ward, i.e. Sleeping Cranes, is not a perfect man.
Things that aren't good:
Over the course of his three EPs, Ward has displayed a fairly static structure for his writing (see: Dylan). Although super duper pleasant, his voice rarely leaves its comfort zone, sometimes taking his more musically rebellious forays and diluting them back into a very continuous sound from one track to the next (see: Oberst).
Things that are good:
Note how that one above this was a short paragraph. This will be a longer one. Atman is more refined than his previous releases. On an instrumental level, Sleeping Cranes finally sounds comfortable enough in its folk niche to shake itself out a little. “Still Green Stonefruit,” uncharacteristically of Sleeping Cranes, leads in softly with a delicate piano line, lush, harmonizing horns and (more characteristically) sparkling acoustic fingerpicking. “Wyoming Citrus Company,” the second track, rumbles and crashes its way in in an up tempo celebration of keeping on keeping on – “Just because I’ve got nothing left to prove / doesn’t mean that I’ve got nothing left to do.”
Later on the disc, “Brick Dust Blues” provides some haunting “oohs” and clicking drums. Ward closes the EP by putting his songwriting to a real test with “Ceques,” a seven and a half minute musical skeleton. Nothing but acoustic guitar and vocals hold up all but about 50 seconds of the track, giving Ward plenty of time to flex his ability to slow down the album’s heart rate (see: Vernon). It works, and by the time the strings finally lift the song five and a half minutes in, you feel like you’ve only been listening a couple.
Things that are just okay:
The production. On the plus side, Atman is cleaner and more polished than the older material. On the negative side, it’s cleaner and more polished than the older material. The mixing on “Wyoming Citrus Company,” for example, is fantastic, but other tracks could be better. A pretty violin line on “Parlor Wolves” is buried, and the fade in of drums on “Still Green Stonefruit” gives a melancholy song an awfully synthetic upbeat impression and makes it sound sort of like an album sampler.
The Wyoming-based Sleeping Cranes continues to thump along on its quest for salvation in the comforts of cigarettes, mountain skylines and acoustic guitars. This time around, though, Ward sounds like he’s more comfortable as a songwriter than he’s ever been.