CocoRosie The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn

[Touch & Go; 2006]

Styles:  freak-______
Others: Metallic Falcons, Blackout Beach, Niobi, Scream Club

It’s easy for reviewers to reward adventurous musicians, but only to a certain point. Groups that truly white-wash their sound are often relegated to sub-par evaluations until they circle back to the traditions that made them a hot name. There are many exceptions, of course. The Liars seemed to have both proved and disproved this notion with the release of their second and third LPs. Upon the release of their sophomore album, they were everyone’s goat; then, rather than venture back into comfortable waters, they pivoted again and released Drum’s Not Dead, which dabbled in a tribal, percussion-heavy sound critics instantly warmed up to. They were again hoisted up as geniuses. So it seems that it’s not whether or not you change, but HOW you change.

Fair enough, but as strange as They Were Wrong, So We Drowned was, I find The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn to be equally jarring/gutsy, inasmuch as it finds CocoRosie tinkering with soundscapes no one in their right mind would have predicted or advised (or wanted, for that matter). Not that this 12-track tour de farce doesn’t have Bianca and Sierra Cassady’s handprints all over it; it’s more that the duo is taking risks that pull a ‘180’ on even the broadest expectations (save for when they recast Devendra B’s “Houses”). To wit, its opening track, “Rainbowarriors,” is criminally bad, and for so many reasons. The rapping is insulting, the horse ‘neighs’ are funny but not ‘ha-ha’ funny, and the flow is flaccid. But even as I recoil, I find myself repeating a phrase in my head over and over: THESE LADIES HAVE BALLS THE SIZE OF TWIN JUPITERS.

So it’s no surprise that many can’t fit The Adventures in their mouth; it’s just too much to teabag if you’re looking for a comfortable, neutered listening experience. But for those that have reached the Point of No Return, where tolerance of all things straight-up is stretched thinner than a Russ Meyer script, Ghosthorse will contort your imagination into new shapes, colors, and curvatures. CocoRosie don’t just push the envelope; they spit-seal that shit, shove it in the mailbox, and harass their friendly local carrier until he’s scared NOT to deliver their message, which seems to encompass the horrors of war, the mental processes of sinners and whores, declarations of “suck[ing] dick,” the idea of being raped in Jamaica and “like[ing] it,” a “schitzophrenic father,” and the sting of self-doubt that likely arises when the above subjects factor prominently into your life.

And lest you forget in lieu of their painfully artsy milieu: These girls can play. Offsetting the amateurish slant to much of the album — particularly the stabs at hip-slop — Sierra Cassady’s opera training finally comes into play, and best of all, it isn’t forced; the mood of the record dictates she flail her voice over certain sections like a rolling fog. Several other examples of sheer moxy pop up like Mexican jumping beans, ensuring that whatever adventure the Cassady sisters overtake, they’re never playing it safe despite cleaner production than CocoRosie recordings of yore.

Tantamount to this mode is “Japan,” a spectacular reggae-inflected distillation of Disney’s “Under the Sea” and Animal Collective’s “Slippi” that combines crabby antiwar lyrics with Carribean camp. Also similar in melody to Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy,” “Japan” is among the most pleasant surprises of 2007 thus far, at once funny, catchy, smarmy, poignant and, most of all, strangely endearing and infectious. Its mid-section proves to be its highlight, as the central harmony twists in and out of itself, the ‘thump’ing percussion subsides, and Sierra’s lovely alto cyclones in the wind like a weathervane, after which the tropical jamboree kicks into its tune once again. From there, a pair of lovely minimalist lullabies — “Sunshine” and “Black Poppies” — complete the comedown you’re sure to experience after “Japan” subsides, Sierra and Cassady captivating with their angelic voices and ditching the occasionally ill-advised baby-talk for a few well-earned minutes.

The more lukewarm segments of Ghosthorse weigh its worth down like saddlebags filled with iron, particularly the trip-hop confessional sections. But even these lesser moments contribute to a greater good when all is said and done, adding up to a slightly cinematic experience best witnessed with full attention fixed on the little details, including bike whistles, wind-up music boxes and toys, video game bleeps, gusts of wind, and everything else you might imagine a two-year-old committing to tape. You’ll be happy to hear adults reveling in such wee-baron antics; you won’t find a more scattershot collection of songs on a major-indie, at least thus far this year. If you find yourself wincing when you first hear the aforementioned “Rainbowarriors,” remember that it was probably planned that way. Then ask yourself, “Why does this make me feel so uncomfortable?” You’re getting warmer...

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