CocoRosie’s music has an extremely polarizing quality, probably more so than just about any other act today. The gender-bending sister act combines hip-hop, freak folk, pop and even gorgeous classical sensibilities in a way that frequently comes off as abrasive and unsettling, rather than harmonious and accessible. I was almost certain I’m the only critic who liked their second album, Noah’s Ark, though a four-star review in Mojo suggests that I haven’t completely lost my mind. With CocoRosie’s third album, The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn, it would seem that a lot has changed, though truth be told, not much has. The Casady sisters still combine operatic grace with clunky hip-hop beats and pixie-voiced weirdness, yet there’s a sort of hi-fi clarity that eluded their previous records. Sort of.
Bianca and Sierra Casady rely much less on ringtones and toy dinosaurs this round than they had before, which makes for a bit of a sonic improvement. Leadoff track “Rainbowarriors” combines Native American imagery with a melodic, psychedelic streak that stands as one of the duo’s most stunning sonic achievements. Samples of neighing horses replace the Godzilla roars, and Bianca’s nigh rap delivery sounds much more sing-songy, shying away from some of her more awkward rhymes. She does, however, channel her inner gangsta MC on “Promise,” lazily spitting lyrics about cans of piss and bathing in Crystal Light. At least that’s what I think she says.
Sierra acts as a character foil to Bianca, as she’s the classically-trained, honey-voiced chanteuse who turns a track like “Bloody Twins” to a glimpse of pure magic. Unfortunately, the reggae campfire singalong “Japan” takes a turn for the annoying, Bianca taking over the lead once more to offer silly couplets like “everybody wants to go to Japan/ everybody just hold hands,” at times affecting a faux-Jamaican accent. Sierra once again displays the contrast between herself and her sister with “Sunshine,” a minimal ballad which pits her soft, Billie Holiday like vocals against a lone organ. “Animals,” chock full of quirky found sounds, is a misfit toy symphony that finds Bianca abandoning her fondness for hip-hop in favor of a melodic vocal approach, rattling off nonsensical imagery that’s at once fun and disturbing. The most impressive display of Sierra’s operatic sensibilities come with the dramatic “Houses,” a baroque and frightening standout that almost sounds like a completely different artist.
That CocoRosie has such a startling range of influences and of directions can be both an attraction and a deterrent for listeners. They most certainly have talent, yet imbue their compositions with such eccentricity, it’s often difficult to wrap one’s head around such a left-field approach. That said, those who have already warmed up to the Casady sisters and their cabinet of curiosities will have no problem snuggling up to the creepy crawly melodies on Ghosthorse. It’s not perfect, but when CocoRosie finds the right groove, they reveal a level of talent and ingenuity that their peers (whoever they are) would most certainly find enviable.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.