Review: CocoRosie – Tales of a Grass Widow

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by JEAN-LUC MARSH

What is it about CocoRosie that immediately inspires snickers and tirades deriding the duo? Perhaps the answer lies in the chafing vocals and insipid lyrics of the Casady sisters, or cover artwork so hilariously absurd that it provokes the question of why any record label would allow it to be released. One fact is clear: whatever CocoRosie is doing, it is simply too avant-garde and bizarre to appeal to the vast majority of the human population.

This issue is the crux in the downfall of CocoRosie. The eccentric nature of their music becomes very evident, alienating the sisters rather than endearing them. The result is a perplexing duo prolifically producing music that very few understand or enjoy. Too abstruse for their own good, the Casady sisters have crept so deep into the crevices of the freak-folk genre that they find themselves wedged in, unable, or unwilling to climb out.

Tales of a Grass Widow continues this esotericism, toning it down just enough to make the album endurable. The bulk of the tracks on Tales of a Grass Widow are, for the most part, actual songs complete with rhythms and refrains, a step forward for an outfit that created the mystifying fracas that was The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn.

Beyond the unnecessarily morose tone of album opener “After the Afterlife,” resides a rhythm engrossing enough to entice the listener deeper into the artistic dystopia. Piano, percussion, synthesizer, and some ungodly noise reminiscent of a wind-up toy, coalesce into something jazzy enough to warrant a second listen. Bianca Casady’s voice, alternating between a gravelly, Björkian growl, and a ghoulish falsetto, while far from anything pleasant, successfully establishes the unsettling tone that saturates the album.

While no portion of Tales of a Grass Widow is particularly upbeat, “Broken Chariot” stands out for its melody, or rather the lack thereof. A miasma of distant ringing sounds, tribal flutes, and the eerie murmuring of Bianca Casady amalgamate into a mass of sound with no purpose or direction. It can barely be qualified as music, fitting more easily into the category of ambient, redundant noise.

Clichés abound on “End of Time,” which offers absolutely nothing novel or profound on a topic that has been used ad nauseam. Lyrics as ostensible and vapid as “This is the end of time,” and “Let’s all hug and say goodbye,” form the backbone of a macabre chorus. However, it is the sisters’ ridiculous rap (more of a morbid spoken word) containing the lyric “Jesus, by the way dear lord  / you always protected me,” juxtaposed with “this will not be televised / the televisions all have died,” that really steals the show.

Despite its flaws (and there are many), Tales of a Grass Widow enters territory that CocoRosie has only recently begun to explore: cohesiveness. The eleven tracks on the album, while almost uniformly unpleasant, all share an underlying moroseness sewn together by Bianca Casady’s unnerving vocals. While not something one would ever want to listen to again, Tales of a Grass Widow is progress for the Casady sisters. There are signs of focusing less on pushing the envelope of what constitutes music, and more on actually doing it well. It took them nearly a decade to get where they are now. Maybe in another ten years they might actually succeed. [D+]

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