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CocoRosie, "Noah's Ark"

I'm not entirely certain whether CocoRosie should actually be considered a musical group, or just a collection of willful, calculated eccentricities clumsily juxtaposed with each other.


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CocoRosie - Noah's Ark

The whole existence of CocoRosie represents only the newest in a recent run of decisive victories of style over substance, surface over depth. This sounds like the opening to a very dismissive trashing of the duo's new album Noah's Ark, and perhaps it is, but I also don't want to ignore or downplay the shiny, effervescent superficialities that conspire to create a seductive and undeniably intriguing album (though its intriguing for all the wrong reasons).

CocoRosie are two American sisters who reunited, after a long separation, in Paris; trust-fund babies who caught wind of the freak-folk current typified by Devendra Banhart and the Golden Apples stable. Their first album was a conscious bandwagon-jump, with purposely low-fidelity recordings of the two sisters harmonizing with creepily contrived infantile vocals (a la Joanna Newsom, but without the musical chops), singing along to music-box melodies or clunky programmed rhythms. The Casady sisters appeared in publicity shots in self-consciously retro 1920s European flapper-wear and make-up, looking an awful lot like The Dresden Dolls. Their style has slowly morphed over the past couple years of touring into an almost transcendent form of deliberate tackiness, culminating in the album cover for Noah's Ark, with its crude drawings of unicorns and vomiting zebras gleefully humping under a rainbow projected from a pentagram tattooed on a Care Bear's forehead.

The sisters themselves look terrible, with partial moustaches, mullets, ugly tie-died clothes and clashing Native American jewelry. I'm spending so much time on the visual tactics of CocoRosie because it seems to be at least as, if not more, important than the music itself. This time out, the girls are assisted by French hip-hop beat-boxer Spleen, who provides some clunky, junky, unfunky beats over which the Casady sisters can strain themselves trying to sound like crippled midgets with foetal alcohol syndrome crying for their mothers in a cartoon faerie land. Noah's Ark is the soundtrack to those psychedelic Lisa Frank trapper-keepers that grade-school girls fancied during the My Little Pony-infested 80s. It's studied in its mastery of faux-naive posturing, and in some ways represents a remarkable feat of substance-less, free-floating postmodernity.

Take the album's opening track, "K-Hole," which renders the disassociative experience of Ketamine in nightmarishly jubilant lyrical couplets like: "God will come and wash away/Our tattoos and all the cocaine/And all of the aborted babies/Will turn into little Bambies" and "I dreamt one thousand basketball courts/Nothing holier than sports." I must admit that something inside of me is attracted to such warped surreality, but the song is couched in instantly recognizable Bjork-isms and can't help but seem like a style parody. Other tracks use a similar palette, skeletal melodies and ramshackle beat programming, with vocal multi-tracking and an arsenal of superfluous psychedelic touches, none of it remarkable musically. Several guest stars feature prominently, most notably the recent Mercury Prize winner Antony, who donates vocals to "Beautiful Boyz," a paean to prison sex; and Devendra Banhart, who warbles in Spanish on "Brazilian Sun." Along the way, Diane Cluck, Jana Hunter and some French rapper also make appearances, desperately trying to pad the album with artistic heft, so that no one will notice the undernourished, bulimic 13-year-old girl at the heart of the album. Please, someone feed her and pay attention to her. I can't do it, but somebody really should.

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Review of the Day

the sea and cake, "glass"
Thrill Jockey
Hot on the heels of this year's full-length release, One Bedroom, The Sea and Cake continue to indulge in their newfound electronic revelry with this seven-track EP. Glass, which clocks in at just over 37 minutes, is comprised of four non-album tracks and three remixes of songs from the album. Versions One and Two of "To the Author" carry the synth melodies one step further than similarly constructed tracks on One Bedroom. The tempo is noticably quicker than the usual Sea and Cake fare, and buzzing, spacious keyboards (which sound much like those used recently on their playful cover of David Bowie's "Sound and Vision") provide an excellent compliment to the processed guitars and Sam Prekop's bouncy vocals. "Traditional Wax Coin" goes in a slightly different direction with a chilled-out—even minimal—jazz infusion. "An Echo In," which is closest in style to their latest album, has nice melody and instrumentation, but ultimately suffers from flat, lukewarm vocals. The remixes are done by kindred indie spirits Stereolab and Broadcast (the latter of whom The Sea and Cake toured with in 2000), and Detroit technohead Carl Craig. Stereoab's "Tea and Cake" remix of "Hotel Tell" strips the original down to a lush, exotic lullabye, while Broadcast lend "Interiors" a heavy dose of their own tripped-out, psychedelia with loads of reverb and shards of synths. Craig's reworking of "Hotel Tell" turns the original into an ass-shakin', bass-thumping dancefloor cut, which is bound to ellicit either a chuckle or a shudder from longtime fans of the band.

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