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.
Individually they’d be remarkable but together, with their dichotomous collision of rasped nursery-rhyme half-raps and octave-defying vocal operatics, Bianca and Sierra Casady are fascinating, albeit polarising artists. Google searches return at least as much vitriol as praise, with whole articles from established outlets entitled Why Do People Hate CocoRosie? One, An Examination in Six Parts, opens “CocoRosie are divisive, if not flat-out widely disliked.”
To some degree that’s a response to their aesthetic, to those irritating song titles with their irritating spellings, those terrible album covers and the wretched false moustaches. 2010’s Grey Oceans exhibited the worst design choices of any object yet made by man, a painful mesh of bootleg fonts and self-consciously wacky adornment so cringeworthy that I had to hide the inlay behind a pencil drawing that I made myself. Some nights I awake, shivering and slightly fevered at its proximity and mere existence. But their music? Their music’s never been an issue. Unconventional, certainly, and challenging, maybe, but always interesting, even when it isn’t particularly likeable or entertaining. Perhaps especially then.
Tales of a GrassWidow is unlikely to shift any of those perceptions, whichever side of the argument you sit on. The artwork might be a considerable improvement but the eleven tracks show little shift in the sisters’ sound, which remains as beguiling – or as infuriating – as ever. Its strongest moments are frontloaded, opener ‘After The Afterlife’ a sweetly melancholic assembly of slight piano and pacey synths, Sierra Casady’s introductory vocal refrain a literal welcome to their world. ‘Tears For Animals’ reworks last year’s single, trading the Z for a more downbeat rendering that pushes Sierra to the edges and brings Antony Hegarty more to the fore.
He’s very much a presence on the album, providing vocals to three songs and an influence throughout – in itself no bad thing as Antony’s voice is always striking, and even more so when juxtaposed with those of the Casady sisters, but he does draw the focus away from Sierra and arguably eclipses her overall. With the exception of ‘Tears…’ his songs are some of the weaker ones, too, part of the back end of Tales… that starts to drag round about Track 9, everything after the beautifully understated ‘Far Away’ passing by with barely a synapse fired. They’re pretty, yes, but decidedly empty, drawn-out and insubstantial and – the unfocused clatter of the ‘hidden’ bonus track notwithstanding – somewhat soporific.
But that’s just the end. In the main Tales of a GrassWidow is an invigorating listen, a patchwork of shifting moods and genres from the hypnotic grind of ‘Child Bride’ to the belligerent hip-hop of ‘End of Time’, the half-heard whispers and Indian flute of ‘Broken Chariot’ and the ebbing fade of ‘Gravedigress’. Sure, it’s not likely to win over CocoRosie’s naysayers, but why would the Casadys care about them: their world’s far more compelling than the one most of us live in, however imperfect this latest glimpse might be.