So what I’m going to do is only briefly sketch out biographical-type information on this indie-folk-tronic group; this will mostly be drawn from the usual sources (All Music, the group’s website1) because let’s face it, if you actually wanted to read about that boring stuff you’d be better off visiting those sources yourself. Then I’m going to talk about why CocoRosie rocks and why you should run out and buy their first CD, “Le Maison de Mon Reve” (I spectacularly failed French in high school but I’ll tentatively translate that as “The House of My Dream”)
Boring biographical stuff (and some snide derision)
Coco and Rosie are the alter-egos of sisters Sierra and Bianca Casady, two expats who wrote and recorded “Le Maison de Mon Reve” in a Parisian flat in springtime. The official story is that after a period of distance from one another, Sierra, formally trained in opera, and Bianca, a musician of the pick-up-a-guitar-and-throw-chords-together school, reconnected in Paris and created the entirety of their debut in the space of eight months. The group’s website describes it thusly, reproduced here for how unapologetically schmaltzy the prose is: “We had spent our lives on separate planets, despite the fact that we shared the same child life, and this unplanned rendezvous was like a blind date arranged by angels.” To be fair, the website seems to be mostly in German and there may be some funny translation silliness going on here, but nevertheless you can probably already tell that the Casady sisters aren’t the greatest of lyricists.
The story is almost too precious. Actually I think I’m going to go ahead and say that the story is, in fact, too precious. Preciousness is a big part of CocoRosie’s public face, though. The two perform in copious amounts of mascara and rouge and full cabaret-esque regalia. They strike poses and vamp for the camera like 7-year-olds playing dress-up. No, let me rephrase. They strike poses and vamp for the camera like jaded 20-somethings ironically imitating 7-year-olds playing dress-up. They are also pretty – even beautiful – but in a disaffected, distant way that, if you were to meet them, would probably inspire resentment and envy rather than admiration.
Dancing about architecture
Now comes the part where I stop criticizing CocoRosie with underhanded put-downs and start talking about how awesome they are. Not coincidentally, this is also the part where I try to describe their music. Specifically, I will tell you about “By Your Side” a track which nicely illustrates a number of things that CocoRosie is about.
"By Your Side" is a richly textured little heartbreaker of a track with the Casady sisters' fragile bluesy vocals over an R & B beat while samples of everyday sounds and some simple piano chords are mixed in to create a melody. Obligatory attempt to classify their sound by referencing other musical groups: cross Cat Power with Portishead and you'll have something that approximates CocoRosie.
Let's get this out of the way - the track, and the album as a whole, frequently dips into oh-so-hip lo-fi scratchiness, dissonance, and atonality. Suffice to say that if you are the sort of person who finds Devendra Banhart2 ear-splitting - his early work, full of audible crackles and hisses, before he made it and could afford expensive recording sessions - you probably aren't going to get into CocoRosie. Those who find such aural indiosyncracies charming will lap it up.
Lets focus on the lyrics, which is what is really arresting about the work anyway. I know I've just finished telling you that the Casady sisters aren't very good lyricists; they aren't. What's so compelling about the track lies more in what they're saying than how they're saying it:
"All I wanted is to be your housewife... I'll wear your black eyes, bake you apple pies... and for a diamond ring, I'll do these kind of things..." Ok, so far it seems faintly American Beauty or Blue Velvet, the whole dark-pulsing-heart-lurking-behind-the-serene-facade-of-domesticity thing going on, with shades of the-monotony-of-suburbia thrown in: "I'll iron your clothes, I'll shine your shoes, I'll make your bed, and cook your food." The urbane sophisticates mocking the culture-deprived suburbanites.
But what exactly are we to make of a line like "And It's nearly midnight, and all I want in my life, is to be your housewife, is to die a housewife..." while the sound of birds can be heard chirping cheerfully in the background, evoking images of evenings spent in a lonely apartment watching the clock hands turn while dreaming of pleasant mornings in a house nestled cozily somewhere in, yes, suburbia? Then there's the refrain, "I'll always be by your side, even when you're down and out" which is looped throughout the track, in the background. Suddenly it seems possible that rather than tongue-in-cheek, the piece is actually sincere - that domesticity and all the attendant monotony and suppressed heart of darkness and veneer of civility is what the singer knowingly wants. That the lyrics are not self-conscious mockery, but tragic heartfelt pleas. The aforementioned dissonance complements this ambiguity nicely - delicate, shaky, occasionally breaking, and heartrendingly vulnerable.
So what exactly am I getting at?
What I'm getting at is that I'm having incredible difficulty "getting" the song - or, for that matter, the rest of the disc3. Which is to say I have difficulty parsing out what exactly it "means." Can not "deconstruct." Like the pastiche of musical influences and textured samples at work in their music, thematically CocoRosie mixes disaffected irony and sincere sentiment into an uncomfortable but lovely stew. The idea is that maybe the two can co-exist simultaneously. That a woman might know that her marriage would be a trap out of feminazi nightmares but love someone enough to want to subsume her identity to him. It might just be that housewife, maker-of-beds, bearer-of-black-eyes and baker-of-pies is a price she's willing to pay. It might just be that this all is horrible and patriarchal and deserving of biting satire and so on, but poignant and moving and selfless and romantic at the same time.
"By Your Side" and a couple other tracks are available for legal, free download through the group website. Go listen now.
Le Maison de Mon Reve
(promo) - 2004
The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn
A lovely cover of Ohio
by Damien Jurado
was included in the cover disk for (McSweeney's
) The Believer
June 2005 Music Issue.
A broadcast in December 2004 on the Parisian FM radio station Aligre FM 93.1 featuring both new and slightly modified existing material can be streamed online at http://helterskelterfm.free.fr/radio.blog/cocoblog.htm.
2) For you older and/or less musically hip folk, substitute Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring for Devendra Banhart in this sentence. And do ignore any musical elitism you might detect in these passages; please believe when I say that it is perfectly acceptable to dislike Stravinsky or Banhart (or even to not know who either of these people are) and I'm mentioning them merely to help you get a grasp of the sort of listening experience CocoRosie is.
3) Other pieces include one from a man about how Jesus loves him but "not my wife, not my nigger friends or their nigger lives... 'cos the Bible tells me so", two about prostitution, one about a cigar-smoking Madonna (as in the mother of Christ) and one that I think is about interracial dating but could just be about how yummy butterscotch candy is.