Brothers Joaquin and the late River Phoenix are known for their filmographies; Joaquin for his portrayal of Johnny Cash, and River for roles in Stand By Me and as a young Indiana Jones.
Who knew, then, that their younger sister Rain Phoenix was the critically loved musician behind the alias Papercranes?
Papercranes is not so much a music project as it is an art experiment. Rain Phoenix likes to showcase her highly conceptualized brand of gentle indie with video and images, a combination that aims for mind-alteration oft compared to a pleasant drug high.
Their collection Three combines three EPs that serve as an accompaniment to 2011’s Let’s Make Babies In the Woods.
Papercranes, not being a group that obscures concepts, titled the segments of Three: First Born, Middle Child and Baby. The musical style on each of the EPs evokes each “child,” while remaining anchored to the core of Rain’s smooth alto.
First Born is the most reserved of the trio; it’s slow-burning, but also the most beautiful at its climaxes. The melodies and instrumentation in this EP are the most layered and lush. With a full, swollen low end, they consist of bass, acoustic guitar and blissfully warm piano.
First Born is composed, too old for childishness. It shows signs of adult thinking and independence, and the EP has an overall sense of self-contemplation that lays heavy on Rain’s murmur-like vocals.
Middle Child bursts in with mud on its feet, immediately wielding a buzzing electric guitar and a bumpy-bouncy rhythm section. Rain’s voice has metamorphosed entirely into a soaring ’80s rocker chick sneer.
Middle Child as a whole incorporates an ’80s riot feel, making use of wavery synths and choppy electric bass.
Middle Child has a fresh energy that the eldest has grown out of, while still discovering new experiences and strength. Middle Child also holds an anger, a sort of expectation and demand, that one obtains at an age between childhood and young adult.
Baby is the odd duck of the three EPs. The sounds here are half-formed and unfinished, as if not fully comprehended. The music is washed-out, parts are disjunctive and notes fall out of place. Exterior noise surfaces at points.
The throbbing low end of First Born has returned in greater force, enveloping Baby like a metaphorical womb. Even Rain’s voice is obscured beneath reverb, taking on yet another change to become like a mother’s lullaby.
It is imperfect but gentle, with a hint of exhaustion and stress. Baby presents its concept to the fullest of the trio, literally becoming the perspective of an infant, unknowing and curious, awash in the sounds of existence.
As a complete work, Three is a prime example of a concept coming to fruition, raw and uncensored, dished out without subtlety or shame.
However, it is a successful venture for Rain Phoenix, a musically pleasant and cohesive effort that doesn’t suffer from the pitfalls that dedicated concept albums often do.