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Anastasia Coope hits a winning mixture on Darning Woman

"Darning Woman"

Release date: 31 May 2024
Anastasia Cooper Darning Woman cover
29 May 2024, 16:00 Written by Grace Marshall

New York musician and artist Anastasia Coope's debut Darning Woman is an experiment for voice and space, guided by its investment in themes of domesticity, gender ideologies, and selfhood.

Coope’s distinctive method is to construct fragmented choirs from her own voice, miraculously varied in texture and register – ensembles accompanied as much by echo and reverb as by the restrained continuo of guitar or piano. Composed during a stay in an empty house in the Hudson Valley, Coope articulates the record as an attempt to vision 'a room of things happening’, ‘to think spatially about music’. Images of interior space populate the sparse lyrics – homes, rooms, domestic labour – whilst Coope's pleasant, comforting harmonies recall nursery rhymes or children’s songs. That’s not to say that the record’s exposition on domesticity is delicate or comforting. Its layered voices are forceful and zealous, with the sinewy texture and muscularity of traditional Bulgarian or Melanesian choirs. Meanwhile, language work can be unnervingly cold and detached, as where Coope makes surreal collages out of repeating, emotionless phrases.

Opener “He is on his way home, we don’t live together” makes the case for this uncanny trick. The title phrase accrues unexpected meanings through its cyclical incantation by Coope’s choirs. It becomes a tool by which the author attempts to reconcile herself to a difficult truth, or some spell which can turn wishes into reality. And as if by magic, from these choirs – loosely organised into unruly counterpoints, which accelerate chaotically – bursts a shining, punky electric guitar. Elsewhere, matter-of-fact lyrics work like an e-girl's determined manifestations. On “Newbin Time”, Coope recites blandly affirming statements about the future, like “I will do something new, I will be something new”, until their syntax dissolves into something resembling nonsense poetry (“Me something new I will order”). By displacing the natural emphasis of words onto offbeats, Coope brings the surreal to the everyday phrases, a technique that works to mesmerising effect on the unearthly dream-sequence of “Woke up and no feet”.

Coope’s curious treatment of language accompanies vocal arrangements which move between sacred choral music, children’s rounds and playground singing games, and noughties freak folk. Despite the sweetness and naivety of the firmly diatonic, church-bell harmonies (“What Doesn’t Work What Does” sounds like pealing wedding bells), Coope’s delivery can be brawny, notes slung out as though trying to be heard from miles away. It’s a combination that’s firmly reminiscent of Animal Collective’s freak folk masterpiece Sung Tongs, an influence which comes through particularly strongly in “Women’s Role in War”, with its outpouring of glottal stops and pitch slides. Where it threatens the diatonic, that yelpy hocketing can invoke strange unease and instability. But the record also holds sunlit moments of quietude and poise. Bluesy close harmonies are delivered with a Molly Drake-esque warble on the lovely “Sorghum” or “Sounds of a Giddy Woman” – building, out of fragments, ditties that would provide company to an old-timey washer-woman or seamstress. Coope’s feminine and domestic aesthetic is cunningly invoked and then subverted across the tracklist – in parts charming, in parts unnerving, in parts invigorating – producing a record that’s genuinely unexpected and delightful.

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