How much more minimalism is possible before a band dissolves into nothing? C.O.C.O is frighteningly empty of personnel (Chris Sutton — who’s wrapped his elastic bass around Dub Narcotic Sound System — and Olivia Ness), of instruments (Sutton beats drums, while Ness plucks bass; both of them sing and add the occasional handclap and organ flourish), and, fortunately, of the loose, finding-their-groove-together songs from their first full-length for K Records.
Their newest, The C.O.C.O. Sound (also on K) is from a band more confident with themselves, filled with more fun foot-tappers. It’s also a fuller-sounding record than their last. Which is a good thing, because the echo-laden production on their first didn’t really do enough to mask what was obviously, well, the sound of a bassist and a drummer. There was also the chance, after all, that the band would try on this record, to lead us down a path where the groove became less than the sum of its component parts.
This does happen, interestingly enough, on “Supercool”, where a bass-less Ness sings over Sutton’s kit. What barely saves this two-and-a-half-minute song from tedium is both the strength of Ness’ amazing voice — she sounds like she’d be at home belting out Big Mama Thornton standards at a blues festival — and Sutton’s beat that’s weirdly sloppy and granite-steady at the same time. However, when heard in the context of the rest of the record (where the voices and lyrics are always secondary to the rhythm and instrumentation), a song like this, on which a voice features prominently, sticks out like a trebly thumb. Although it probably would have been conceptually interesting to try and distill their music further (Who’s up for a cowbell-bass note duet?), this song proves they’re good at sticking with what they’re doing and not trying for more minimalism.
What are C.O.C.O. doing, anyway? It’s similar to what their peers Lightning Bolt, Orthrelm, and Pink and Brown are doing, with jazz metal, progressive metal, and druggy splattersludge, respectively. Ness and Sutton are reimagining a tried-and-worn genre as something that can be made new by removing pieces, rather than adding them. Although, unlike the aforementioned two-pieces, C.O.C.O. is more interested in bringing the funk than bringing the noise. As the voice of the announcer on “Intro” claims, the band wants to start a “rhythm revolution”. They even make a bid for novelty-dance immortality in “Rinse & Spin”, with Sutton stutter-stepping all over his kit and Ness weaving throughout the spaces between his beats like a snake sliding through a drain. The song is just catchy enough to join the ranks of such barn-burners as “The Hustle” and the “Chicago Bus Stop”.
Two songs on the record set the tone for the types of revolution called for by the band. On the one hand, there’s the frenzied kick of “I Don’t Mind”, demanding us to drop everything and frug. On the other, there’s the slinky glide of “Cutie Pie”, which seduces by making us feel sexy. The former threatens to fall apart on the speed of its undulating bassline, tricky hi-hat work, and speedy fills; you can imagine the literal disco inferno caused by the friction of dancers’ legs and hips on the floor. This song segues, oddly, into “Cutie Pie”. While “I Don’t Mind” is all good-time juke-joint hand-clapping music, the latter is more slow-burn candlelit-boudoir hip-grinding music for the lovers in the house who are more interested in feeling pelvises than testifying. A space-age synthesizer line adds to the Barbarella-esque shag (on the) carpet feel.
So in the former camp goes songs like “To You”, with its rinky-dink organ, “None of That”, which manages to build up from a heartbeating drum to a full-on groover, and “Out of Time”, with the dub-style drums nicely complementing Ness’ echoing vocals. In the latter, we can fit “Blackout!”, a great example of how to make falling-down-the-stairs percussion sound slinky, and “You Know”, with Sutton calling out veiled insults over a cartoonish stop-start bass action.
There’s enough variety of C.O.C.O.’s sounds on The C.O.C.O. Sound to keep your attention, and enough oomph to make even the surliest wallflower want to shimmy his hips. At just under 26 minutes, though, this record is admittedly slight. But then again, a short party is better than no party at all, right?