Steel Cranes are yet another guitar-and-drums two-piece that seeks to plow the same furrow as that of the White Stripes, Black Keys, Viva Voce, Little Fish, Little Hurricane and many, many more. The key to successfully tapping this vein lies in a compelling voice and memorable guitar sound—whether crunching or sweetly melodic, the guitar has to do much of the heavy lifting when it’s the only instrument on display. Steel Cranes suffer from a mix that pushes the guitar too far behind the vocals, homogenizing it into a bland wash of generic distortion. Tracy Shapiro’s vocals are fine if not outstanding, and Amanda Schukle is better than competent at pounding the skins, but the tracks here sound as if Shapiro is standing in a room singing with the band playing in another room with the door closed.
It’s a shame, because there are some good tunes here. Opener “Anthem” serves as a strong statement of purpose, at least until the watery chorus, while “Boat Song” is a standout, a slow-burn number featuring some nifty guitar work. “Moving On” brings some nice fury to its earwormy chorus, and album closer “Farewell” mixes the guitar tones between clean and fuzzy in a way that subverts expectation. More often than not, though, the lack of sonic punch undermines these tunes. Note to band: next time, bring the guitars way up, throw in a few more pedals and effects, and you’ll have a hell of a record.