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Wednesday, May 2, 2007 03:55 pm

Weird sisters

CocoRosie runs the gamut from awful to awesome

CocoRosie The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn (Touch and Go)
Untitled Document Are Bianca and Sierra Casady the geniuses that their admirers (John Darnielle, David Byrne, countless blognerds) say they are, or are they simply the newest naked emperors to hypnotize the hipster elite? Artless prodigies or practiced flimflammers? Idiots savants or plain old idiots? These questions are not rhetorical. I honestly can’t decide whether the sisters Casady, known collectively as CocoRosie, have pulled off the great indie-rock swindle or they’re the kind of artistes-with-an-e whom everyone pretends to love until, decades later, everyone actually does. Whatever the case, the Casadys have no real reason to clear up the confusion. Nothing fascinates the chattering classes like a couple of androgynous expats who may or may not know how to play their instruments. With their painted-on mustaches and faux-naïf hugger-mugger, their lo-fi bricolage and highbrow juxtapositions, they vacillate between being intensely annoying and perversely appealing. They enthuse about fairies and dress up as Native Americans. They shuttle between homes in Brooklyn and Paris, between studios in Iceland and the south of France. One of them, Sierra, is a classically trained opera singer; the other, Bianca, sounds like the hip-hop-infatuated offspring of a badly constipated Björk and a libidinous Shirley Temple. Their music is a technoprimitive grab-bag of rudimentary beats, a few synth or piano chords, lots of literal bells and whistles, and weird loops (including, but not limited to, a whinnying pony, a coin spinning on a countertop, and a creaking door). Hip-hop, of course, is rife with freaky samples, but the difference between, say, Timbaland and CocoRosie is that the former uses such effects as a condiment and the latter turns them into a meal. Unfortunately, what was a novelty three years ago may be hardening into kitsch. The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn, the duo’s third album, is neglibly more polished than previous efforts, its production values a bit less rinky-dink, its instrumentation somewhat more refined. But the cutesy quotient, alas, is still in overdrive. Underneath all the psychosexual posturing, the surface grime, and the requisite infusions of irony (let’s hope it’s irony, anyway), Ghosthorse is the sonic equivalent of a warehouse full of Precious Moments figurines. There’s a fine line between childlike and childish, but who besides a total perv wants to see a couple of grown women toeing it? (Confidential to Bianca: You’re 25 years old now, and the little-deaf-girl singsong shtick is getting icky.) To paraphrase the nursery-school rhyme, when CocoRosie is good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad, it’s horrid. The opening track, the hideously titled “Rainbowarriors,” comes off like something a teenage pagan might intone over a vegan potluck: “We gathered in a circle, stood round the rainbow fire/Burning embers, hearts united, we remember mystical beauty.” The cringes continue apace with the infantile reggae jam “Japan,” which features Bianca’s regrettable attempt to imitate Jamaican patois, a seriously stupid rape analogy, and what are surely the all-time suckiest rhymes about Iraq (concluding with the howler “peanut-butter jelly and other snacks”). Yet “Japan” also contains a ridiculously lovely operatic interlude from Sierra, which almost, but not quite, atones for the aforementioned crimes. “Houses,” on the other hand, a denuded piano-blues-cum-Impressionist art song, is nothing short of mesmerizing; when Sierra’s startling mezzo-soprano takes over and the piano darkens and swells, damned if CocoRosie doesn’t pull off a passable Fauré. Ghosthorse goes back and forth like that, the ridiculous ramming into the sublime, for 40 frustrating minutes. Almost perfectly pitched between awful and awesome, the CD has a binary energy that saves it from mediocrity but can’t quite propel it into excellence.

Contact René Spencer Saller at rssaller@core.com.


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