CocoRosie: The Adventures Of Ghosthorse And Stillborn, a review
It’s obvious by the number of hatchet jobs handed to The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn: CocoRosie remain on the receiving end of a perpetual backlash. Bands are dissed daily, but the energy focused on the sisters Casady borders on violence—they come complete with layers of sparkled eccentricity, yeah, but to my mind that eccentricity seems natural and, well, honest rather than an affectation.
Jabs started early with their 2004 debut. The list of complaints (in part): Bianca and Sierra camped out in Paris when recording La Maison de Mon Rêve, connoting to some, I guess, ex-pat bohemian wealth (forget the fact that the record was born from the joy of familial reunion… Bianca traveled overseas, relocated). They dress intricately, eclectically, and partake in fashion spreads (when I saw them open for Antony at the Bowery Ballroom, the drab, pasty GAP dude in front of me was fuming at their tracksuits and Sierra’s pillbox hat). Or, the music’s seen as precious, self-consciously quirky, and pretentious—how is it that people trashing CocoRosie deify Joanna Newsom?
Detractors haven’t been appeased, but The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn is the duo’s strongest work to date: The writing’s silly, witty, cornball, smart, beautiful. The best songs ("Promise," "Animals," "Werewolf," "Miracle") are jammed with the most beats and syllables. Certain images repeat: baptism, water, and tears mix with dishwater, swimming pools, telepathy, sound effects. Parents are schizophrenic and there’s a recurrent notion of spreading childlike innocence or a non-innocent childlike joy. "Sunshine" follows a bike ride around the block; elsewhere we’re told everyone has a "rainbow trail" inside their body/soul, a "mystical beauty." What folks tend to miss is that it isn’t so cutesy; instead, the duo work like Beat Happening used to do, creating a place where both souls and sheets are stained and magical realism abounds. Once you start analyzing, it scans like birth to present autobiography, cuts and bruises intact.
A palpable, universal sadness permeates the record. In "Werewolf," Bianca talk-sings, "Corny movies make me reminisce/ They break me down easy/ Honest generic love shit/ First kiss/ Frog and princess." The moments that resonate most are these; instances extending fairy tales of the everyday. "Promise" follows a quasi-sacred love story ("our hands hold bonfires burning bright") through "oceans of tears" and a "desert of diamonds" to a "crystal light" housed between the protagonist’s thighs. There’s dancing and laughing "from dusk to dusk," the central "tarnished offering" of heart/self/etc. It’s rapped over an oscillating, click-tongued beat box. (You can link CocoRosie to the Blow as a basically "indie rock" band finding a way to channel hip-hop in a manner that’s natural, constructive.) In "Houses," a catchy 6-minute pop song with more layers than an old pine tree, a soul-crushed protagonist is alone, living on the highway, only coming out at night or during solar eclipses: She "wake(s) up half empty only to be filled again with morning," decides it best to "go and live amongst the animals." Tea stains, tobacco, and porno provide a residue, company. Also accompanying her loneliness is a menagerie of vocal samples, animal toys, drum machines, organ, etc.
Throughout, music boxes and bells and children’s toys create a strange, moving atmosphere. Winking at their previous album, Noah’s Ark, a recurrent Knife-cum- Laurie Anderson octave-dropped voice relays a series of animal tales, including one about a girl who talks with geese—she finds a diamond in a crystal stream, places it in her hair, is transformed into a bird, realizing the other geese were once human, too. Connections like this are everywhere: Lonesome kids, shape-shifting (count the werewolves).
"Miracle"’s stunning, a quiet, ultra-atmospheric, Björkian ballad about meeting a seat belt-wearing, basketball- playing boy. The sound of saliva crackles. The French rapper Spleen adds the ghostly, Antony-like imprints of "a boy" in one channel, over a clipped, shaky, black-and-white-seeming Mobius background. Sierra has a lovely voice (she’s the operatic one), but it’s always Bianca’s distinctly cracked warble that gets me—so great when the two are used in conjunction. If Sierra goes on her own, like the end of "Houses", it’s pretty but the operatic moments often feel like an interruption of Bianca’s achy lyricism ("I don’t mean to close the door, but/for the record my heart is sore/You blew through me like bullet holes/left stains on my sheet and stains on my soul") and poetic playfulness.
A definite thread radiates—the central thematic piece is scratch-happy opener, "Rainbowarriors," a Henry Darger/Care Bear fight song/talismanic anthem against outside forces ready to "molest and destroy" the dancing and laughing "rainbow spirits." Drab reality? Fatuous boredom? Whatever their form, "evil spirits" are warded off through shakers, a thousand and one cartoon sound effects (boing-boing), speak ‘n’ spell, synthy horn stuffs, and baying horses. Rainbows have made a showing on all of CocoRosie’s records. Remember the fucking unicorns on the cover of Noah’s Ark? One’s emitting a psychic rainbow, another rainbow spit or snot or blood. It reminded me of Lisa Carver’s Rollerderby zine: The mix of Dame Darcy fantasia, fashion (terry cloth, sparkles), sex, Suckdog performance days.
Here, sweetness is interrupted by wicked avenues, the exclamation "yeah, I suck dick," or turns of phrase like "in my heart a flower dies slow/ Like a campfire covered in piss, my love." These instances collide with the pixie dust, make sparks: Inevitably, even though the world of Ghosthorse and Stillborn (the characters, not the record) is painted in rainbows and made to resemble a garden of Eden, it’s impossible getting back to it with our stained fingers and non-erasable pasts. That’s the unavoidable sadness, as well as the gorgeously tarnished but incorruptible joy, that colors the album.