Release Date: May 28, 2013
Record label: City Slang
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Club/Dance, Indie Electronic, Dream Pop, Post-Rock
CocoRosie is forever waiting for its moment to arrive. The path has been riddled with caustic receptions by mainstream critics and everyday bloggers, whose negative judgments of sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady have included everything from misappropriating race to “terrible” looks and voices. When the act signed to Sub Pop for 2010’s Grey Oceans, the mean-spirited reactions from site commenters overshadowed the positive remarks in quantity and fervor.
Over the years, CocoRosie slowly drifted away from their lo-fi roots and toward sounds that emphasize the sophistication of their songs. On Tales of a GrassWidow, Sierra and Bianca Casady polish away some of the more grating edges of their previous album, Grey Oceans, but these songs aren't all sweetness and light: "After the Afterlife" begins the album with deceptive delicacy before synths take the track in a darker and more mysterious direction. Indeed, this is some of CocoRosie's most electronic-based music, in large part because the Casadys worked with producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, whose Scandinavian folktronic flair brings out the similarities in the sisters' music to Björk and Múm.
CocoRosie have long divided opinion – and, love them or loathe them, much of that opinion rests on what you think of their vocals. To some, the Björk by-way-of Joanna Newsom style is a bit too much to stomach, but listen beyond the cutesy, helium vocals and there’s much to enjoy. This is the Casady sisters’ fifth album – the last one, Grey Oceans, coming some three years ago.
The Casady sisters are back to divide opinion and elicit a wide range of facial expressions with their first album since 2010's Grey Oceans, Tales of a GrassWidow. Firstly, let's address most critics' main gripe with CocoRosie and talk about the vocals. They're odd and wildly changeable; one minute toddler, the next shrill belter, the next angelic chorister.
CocoRosie have impressive staying power for a band that has frequently incorporated repellence into its style, tempering their perversity with enough weird beauty to keep us on the hook. On 2004 debut La maison de mon rêve, sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady meowed warped endearments over freak folk guitars and hip-hop beats. It's their sparest and loveliest album, but it still raised eyebrows with "Jesus Loves Me", a seemingly heartfelt but inescapably patronizing burlesque of negro spirituals that repeatedly used an even more taboo word than "negro.
Even ten years into their career it’s difficult to believe that CocoRosie exist. They’re the kind of band that seem imagined: A gothic fairy tale of twilight imagery and aural eclecticism residing a step outside of the norm, indifferent to trends, fashions and fickle opinion. Two sisters, living in Paris by way of Iowa and Hawaii, New York and Native American vision quests, one an opera singer and the other an artist – their music a childlike but deeply shadowed collage of beats and glitches, of ivory and experiment, the organic and the electronic commingling beneath two of the strangest, most incongruous and most captivating voices on record.
Sisters Sierra and Bianca Casady have made a career out of walking the tightrope between art-house inspiration (2005's Noah's Ark) and teeth-grating pretentiousness (2007's The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn). As ever, their blend of reggae, opera and folk influences sounds unique, thanks in large part to Bianca's extraordinary vocals: at times childlike, an instant later carrying the emotional heft of Billie Holiday, never more so than on the moving Child Bride. Yet despite two guest appearances from longtime collaborator Antony Hegarty and a sublime untitled hidden song – stuttering, concussive beats offset by Bianca at her most spellbinding – too much of the material on their fifth album is content to merely sit in the background, not something from which they usually suffer.
CocoRosie are an acquired taste, but on Tales of a GrassWidow, their fifth studio album, the Casady sisters spin some of their most accessible tracks in years. As always, the imagery is eerie, like the dreamy refrain of the opening track “After the Afterlife”, backed by music-box piano chimes. Here it’s more in the manner of a dark children’s folk tale than a horror movie.
Deep down, CocoRosie take pride in pissing people off. Why else paint on fake mustaches in your publicity photos? Why else draw humping unicorns on your album cover? Why else blend opera with reggae and musique concrete? Why else sing in a grating, faux-Icelandic coo? Ever since their debut full-length, 2004’s La maison de mon rêve, the Casady sisters have been on a quest—to craft the Citizen Kane of musical stupidity. Tales of a Grasswidow, their fifth LP, comes pretty damn close.
Despite what their album titles would have you believe, CocoRosie have never been one for telling stories—or at least not the cohesive, plot-driven stories Stephen King and Dan Brown would have us believe is the mark of a true narrative. But Tales Of A Grass Widow is the closest they’ve come yet: part childhood bedtime story/part warning tale of mortality. Sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady have shown on previous albums that they have a way with words.
Is there such a thing as a macabre lullaby? This seems to be the underlining teaser behind CocoRosie’s fifth full-length, a fractal journey though magic realism-as-pop. Decamping to Iceland to work with producer/composer Valgeir Sigurðsson, ‘Tales Of A Grasswidow’ is the duo’s most undeniably produced album, perhaps too-produced. Utilising a percussive heavy foundation (albeit one that sounds as if it were recorded underwater), the interweaving vocals shimmer and soar but also sound on the verge of suffocation; the music is sure tight, but uncomfortably so.
byJEAN-LUC MARSH What is it about CocoRosie that immediately inspires snickers and tirades deriding the duo? Perhaps the answer lies in the chafing vocals and insipid lyrics of the Casady sisters, or cover artwork so hilariously absurd that it provokes the question of why any record label would allow it to be released. One fact is clear: whatever CocoRosie is doing, it is simply too avant-garde and bizarre to appeal to the vast majority of the human population. This issue is the crux in the downfall of CocoRosie.