Coco Rosie: The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn
Pop, eating itself and then throwing up and eating itself again. Sounds great? Not when verve and a trash aesthetic are lacking.
It seems another lifetime since Coco Rosie's debut swooped onto an unsuspecting audience with all the weird grace of a slightly injured kestrel. La Maison de Mon Reve was soaked in so much indulgent charm that any flaws merely added to the allure. It pains me to say it, but sections of Ghosthorse and Stillborn land with all the welcome splat and pungency of pigeon shit.
Lest we forget, La Maison de Mon Reve was a hideously seductive perfume of cartoonesque pre-war blues, twee-hop, and chilled dollhouse opera. The sounds chimed and ticked in minimalist pop-folk delirium and the sisters spewed existential vomit, gloriously sweet as a childhood memory taken from someone else's photograph. It was as if a serpent of unknown origin, once housed in the belly of Lucille Bogan, had slithered across decades and deserts, over old bibles and rusted guitar strings, through assorted silky or lacy undergarments, was somehow borne across an ocean, to wind through cobbled streets, ascend Parisian plumbing, and emerge simultaneously in the bodies of sisters lolling unsuspectingly in the bath; thereby causing them to speak in the babbling tongues of women long disappeared from sweltering fields and glittering theatrical dressing rooms.
That their rhythmic incantations were called pretentious, and rumored to be made by trust fund recipients who couldn't recite half a dozen important events in the history of racial or gender liberation, mattered not one jot. Just as it was of no consequence that they had little to say, that one of them didn't so much sing as utter a catlike screech, and the arrangements verged not so much on the childlike as the fetal. Though purists muttered spuriously about authenticity, such churlishness was as that of wine drinkers going by the label not the taste. For through the steam emerged an admittedly wet but rather wonderful dream. Some tracks had all the quality of an answering machine message and, splendidly, were about as short. Less was more. All that was important was that it sounded great.
Even allowing for the presence of a time traveling reptile, it was sadly inevitable that they would be allowed to leave the bathroom. Doing so was arguably a mistake. It seems that the jittery snake of inspiration, as quickly as it entered, has slipped away into the welcoming sewers for pastures unknown. The sisters previously jabbered in a state of hypnotized derangement that, perhaps due to its intimacy, reeked of fundamental abandon. That debut resembled a happy accident of acoustics and domestic realignment pact wherein Coco Rosie's sound was clad only in whatever was to hand, which is why we were treated to percussion by metal belt. Their audio sketches in the low-budget equivalent of charcoal and cheap watercolor were little more than un-joined dots resounding with spontaneity and echoing with mystery. When the fever broke, though they remembered nothing of the serpent muse, their follow upNoah's Ark sounded to me like a hollow, unfocused, over produced mess.
In 2006 with a new companion and under the banner of Metallic Falcons, the operatic sister headed into a metaphorical desert perhaps in search of the lost sweetness, with higher-profile pals like Devendra Banhart and Antony along to carry the luggage. Devendra's involvement might have brought a similar throwaway and formulaic feel as his disappointing and largely dreadful Cripple Crow. In the event though, while Desert Doughnuts was neither as sexy nor as sad as La Maison de Mon Reve, it is unlikely to enjoy the shelf-life of that little gem, and seemed a trifle wooden or over careful, it definitely marked a healthy hop, skip, and jump away from the disposable Noah's Ark.
So, this is Coco Rosie’s third attempt. Opener "Rainbowarriors" briefly reintroduces the belt as percussion but swiftly becomes an obnoxiously slick anthem suffering from an everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach to production. There are even a few horse neighs thrown in for no good reason. I hope it is a #1 smash but a comb and paper version would have been much better. There are some clues that we are in the territory of Our Lord and this is main very plain in the turgid "Promise".
After “Bloody Twins” and “Japan” I could barely stand much more. Surprisingly, the middle section of this record offers genuine hope that Coco Rosie can recover and lift out of creative nosedive. "Sunshine" is a threadbare piece of twee nothingness that is more than bearable. Even better is the cut-price ethereality of “Black Poppies” which suggests to me that the sisters have died and the serpent has entered their grave (I assume they will be buried together) to invest them with the inspiration of necrophilia. It creaks like a coffin lid. There are splendid buzzes and phoned-in-from-beyond-the-cartoon-grave mutterings. Thelonious Chipmunk, if you will.
“Werewolf” is also excellent. This creepy tale, perhaps autobiographical, strongly hints at abuse of power, incest, a residue of pain, betrayal and defiance, and is splendidly framed by simple piano and driven by pseudo-religious rhythms. “Animals” hints at brilliance in the opera, bicycle bells, static and lazy beat yet doesn’t get there. “Houses” benefits from a tossed coin, piano, and the powerful operatic pipes at the disposal of one sister; currently underused, though possibly destined to reign triumphant one day. It's written by Devendra Banhart, if that matters to you. “Girl and the Geese” is pretty insipid and suffers due to the narrator’s ignorance of the singular of geese. The narrator is otherwise really rather excellent. Antony shows up briefly on the final track “Miracle”, a fittingly half-hearted finale to a half-hearted record.
Partly because the girls are far from conventional pip-ups, I would love to be wrong and for a series of worldwide mega smash hits to leap from Ghosthorse and Stillborn despite their often dreadful sense of fashion and design. It seems though, that what Coco Rosie does best is the equivalent of delivering handmade postcards to houses in a tiny village of narrow alleys and leafy avenues. When they did it on foot or on their tandem it was easy. Now they are doing it, metaphorically speaking, in Ferraris or Lincolns, which in theory can go faster but aren't designed for this terrain. The Spanish Armada had huge galleons but Sir Francis Drake sunk their invasion with his maneuverable fleet. If I could, I would either persuade them to stop disappearing up their own arses or just go ahead and push them further up and put us out of our misery. That may seem drastic and overblown, but I speak as someone who reveled in the bathtub subterranean gibberish of their debut. This new record has a genuinely hopeful and perhaps truthful center which drips with promise but elsewhere lacks excitement, eroticism, soul, humor, and breadth. Other than that, it's fine. If I’m not mistaken, there are powers at work outside the sisters, and painful autobiographical memories that must surface. I recommend spending as much time in the bath as the captain of the Golgafrinchan Ark Fleet Ship B.