The Casket Girls: Sleepwalking

Sleepwalking contains the tunes you’d expect to emanate from an antique music box in a cobweb-strewn haunted house or to be sung by the ghost sisters from The Shining.

The Casket Girls


Label: Graveface
US Release Date: 2012-11-06
UK Release Date: 2012-11-06
Artist website

With their ghoulish name, the Casket Girls may have an uphill battle in shaking presumptions that they’re just another goth band. In truth, the Savannah, Georgia-based three-piece is hardly the trite doom and gloom bearer their name might suggest. They are a band rich with dichotomies, thriving in the juxtaposition of polarities — detached and impassioned, cacophonous and melodic, creepy and cutesy, fun and funereal. The band’s name itself is the first indication of this, being a pun of sorts on superficial expectations, as “casquette girls” was the colloquial term for virginal French girls shipped to colonies of America’s Deep South.

Sleepwalking, the Casket Girls’ 10-song debut album, contains the tunes you’d expect to emanate from an antique music box in a cobweb-strewn haunted house. The record is dominated by spooky soundscapes of minimal percussion and fuzzed-out synth lines crafted by Ryan Graveface (Black Moth Super Rainbow, the Marshmallow Ghosts, Dreamend) on what sounds like instruments purchased at a toy store or a second-hand shop. Frequently, an electric church organ flares up only to be tempered by a droning feedback. The contrasting components of the music yield a thick atmosphere, a hazy aura that is not quite nocturnal but more indicative of some twilight-esque otherworld. Think of the tunes as lights through a fog, though whether that fog is born of the looming evening’s dusk or the new day’s dawn is in the ear of the listener.

Amid such eeriness, at once exacerbating and alleviating it, are the harmonizing voices of sisters Elsa and Phaedra Greene. Sweetly twee, they offer songs that could be lullabies sung by the ghost sisters from The Shining or the Lisbon sisters from The Virgin Suicides. The innocence in their whispery vocals serves to conversely set the listener on edge, for on the surface they are angelic and reassuring, yet there is the implied undercurrent that such sweetness belies the seduction of death. Whether they’re benign or malevolent, they certainly have the impression of an entity summoned by a Ouija board.

Opening cut “Walking on a Wire” rises effervescently, the tom-tom banging setting a down-tempo dirge offset by the Greenes’ folksy reflections of lonely whippoorwills and revelation blues. Their lethargic presentation represents the mundane of being stuck between two worlds, not knowing which to fall into. “Maybe we weren’t meant for these times”, the sisters repeat throughout, perhaps a self-conscious reference to the band’s own merging of anachronistic ‘60s girl-group tropes, ‘80s synth pop and ‘90s electronica. The second track, “I’ve Got a Secret”, bears a heavy influence of The End…-era Nico, lurching distorted key notes hypnotic in their repetition and a circus music-like melody. The Greene sisters tell an impressionistic tale of something wicked having this way come, the verses at times seeing their voices so high they’re about to crack while the suggestive chorus sees them dropping to unsettling lows. “I’ve got a secret / I won’t tell / I’ll take it to the grave / I’m a casket girl”, they intone like sirens. What said secret is remains unstated, though there are clues — was the protagonist the victim of childhood abuse? Did the victim kill her abuser?

Lead single and titular track “Sleepwalking” is a swaying slice of dream pop, a tune that would be saccharine enough to give you diabetes if the lyrics weren’t a deliberate middle-finger salute to the Grim Reaper. The Greenes use Graveface’s synthesizer bleeps and whistles and crunchy drum machine beats as a canvas on which to espouse their defiance of death, of not merely wading through life like a somnambulist. “There will be no starting over / It’ll just be over”, they open with in suitably deadpan fashion, a sentiment that may seem dour, but in the Casket Girls’ hands, is actually an endorsement to live in the here and now. “I’m not afraid to die / I’m willing to go before my time / You won’t see me / Sleepwalking”, they sing cheerily in the borderline anthemic chorus, “I’m not afraid of death / Maybe I’ll finally catch my breath / You won’t find me / Sleepwalking”. It’s a song that completely seizes the hallmarks of the goth genre and inverts them — the focus on death and the grimness which comes with such a fixation supplanted by a lust for life and a desire to indulge without fear of any looming repercussions. Here, the inevitability of death isn’t cause for nihilism, but celebration, as it is the borrowed time of existence that gives it meaning.

Elsewhere on the record, though, the Casket Girls reject the notion that death is truly the end. “Whistle and I Will Come” sees them calling from the other side of death amid drum blasts simulating waves crashing on a rock-lined shore. Then there is the spoken-word piece “The Visitor”, in which the narrator describes encountering the shade of her mother. The piece reads like an entry from the Alvin Schwartz classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, chilling to the nth degree with its sweeping shoegaze template and the echoing voices.

The most atypical song on Sleepwalking, though, is placed smack in the middle. “Heartless” is a full-on retro disco track, the kind of dance number you’d hear in a discotheque going for a surrealism theme. Describing the numbness that comes from the dissolution of a relationship, the narrator finds herself infected with the apathy of her former lover. “How could I miss / The devil’s kiss? / It’s like I’m heartless," the Greenes state with next to no inflection, the feeling of being hollowed to the core conveyed in their vocals.

On the downside, the record is a bit uneven, the majority of its memorable songs pushed to its first half. The songs on the flipside aren’t any less interesting on their own, but after six or seven similar cuts, they start to get lost in the shuffle and bleed together. Thankfully, the album overall is short enough at 33 minutes that this result isn’t the lasting impression you walk away with. In point of fact, the brevity of the record lends itself to repeated listens, in part due to the way it ends. The closing song, “Give it All Away”, serves as a fitting finale, its austere keyboard twinkling segueing into a wall of noise as the Greenes duel each other with “How you gonna stop it now?” and “Give it all away” until the entire thing abruptly fades out like a séance wherein the participants lose their nerve and bring it to a halt.

Sleepwalking occupies a very specific niche in the indie music realm. It’s not going to appeal to everyone, but for those who like their pop music served up with a macabre bent, you could scarcely do better than the Casket Girls.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.