Words by Lee Adcock
Cohesiveness has never been a strong-point for those quirky sisters of CocoRosie. From the shambling, archival ruin of their debut to the spotty slush of Grey Oceans, Bianca and Sierra have cultivated their veneer of artsy weirdness more attentively than their actual musicality. Eschewing traditional instruments for shiny bells and electronic gizmos, they’ve somehow managed to earn the label “freak folk”, despite their recent bent toward misplaced hip-hop beats and flashy pop stylings.
Unfortunately, their latest LP, Tales of a GrassWidow (no space!), hasn’t evolved much from their previous effort. Admittedly, much of the mess has been swept away – the production is even crisper, template techno beats are even more prominent, and poor Bianca actually sounds fair (although, without a doubt, she’s shaped her quaky voice to match Björk’s to a tee). What’s left, however, is not a seamless blend of “organic and electronic sounds”, as the press release would have listeners believe, nor is it an “extension of the feminist ideas” that they’ve apparently been harping in lofty art exhibits around New York.
The album’s best moments are its most minimal ones. Broken Chariot, the most captivating track on the album, is also the most sparse: haunting synths hang in the background as a recorder plays on in the empty space. It’s the only intimate track on the album, the one tune where CocoRosie ease up on the bumping vibes and Harmless Monster is another chilling highlight, featuring some fluid piano and some soft thumping to keep the pulse. The beatboxing on Gravedigress is also noteworthy – although, admittedly, his contributions nearly sound synthetic due to the slick production. Roots Of My Hair aims for a cutesy, earthy vibe, with a graceful harp perky lutes – and the sitar that awakens briefly in the middle and end of the track does inject a certain spirituality to the music (as stereotypical as that sounds).
However, much of the album is crowded with incongruous ideas. Take The End of Time, which could have been a lovely little piano number, if Bianca hadn’t decided to half-heartedly rap over an urbane/inane hip-hop beat. Or the opener, After the Afterlife, a track which feigns divinity until – once again – the mundane rhythms kick in. Villain is a most baffling number: in spite of its sleazy handclaps and organs and urban vibe, an odd harpsichord solo is imposed into the middle! And while Far Away is rather pleasing, with its yearning strings, cold synth waves, and nice vocal harmonies, it certainly lacks any emotional punch.
As before on Noah’s Ark, the most memorable vocal lines are delivered by guest singer Anthony Hegarty. He crops up on the deplorably simplistic Tears For Animals (“Do you have love for humankind?” he asks indefinitely) and the supposedly sorrowful Poison; though the lyrics lack any depth or impact, his honeyed, deep voice at least adds some well-needed passion and conviction to the girls’ otherwise prissy, aloof delivery.
Thankfully, the worst track on the album is entirely optional for the listener – it’s tucked away on the tail end of Poison’s nearly 10-minute silent interlude. Suddenly, a jerky, crashing beat smashes the silence, and erupts into a rave-ready breakbeat over an inappropriately tame lullaby and some lilting tune from Sierra. And Bianca says some preposterous things, such as “Who wants to lay on a soft bed and DIE?” Plus, for no reason whatsoever, an audience begins to whistle and cheer, but gives way to whistling birds – what on earth were those nutsy sisters smoking when they dreamt this one up? Maybe there’s some statement buried underneath that pulsing racket, but you’d only gain a headache trying to decipher it.
And that is, ultimately, the biggest fault of Tales of a GrassWidow – the yet-again absent continuity, or theme. Although CocoRosie do create some works of beauty, no apparent thread weaves these tracks together. At least, not to my ears – and, I’ll admit, I’m not the most adept at catching lyrics. But, given the title, and the ambitious statements from the press release, I expected more of a flow between songs, and frankly more tangible content. But CocoRosie have not written a story at all into this LP – just snatches of abstract poetry, all striking at certain verses, but perplexing when strung together.