The oddest purveyors of freak-folk deliver a patchy fourth album.
Louis Pattison 2010
Not that you’d expect anything particularly conventional from an act that apparently emerged from underneath the voluminous kaftan of Devendra Banhart back in the mid-Noughties, but of all the artists to be lumped into the “freak-folk” movement, CocoRrosie have surely turned out to be some of the freakiest.
Based between Paris and Williamsburg, New York, sisters Bianca "Coco" and Sierra "Rosie" Casady have pursued a studied sort of oddity that has entranced some just as it has bemused others – a hodgepodge of folk, blues and cabaret unafraid to mess with racial or gender roles, or toy with pastiche in its pursuit of hallucinogenic, cracked-mirror creativity.
Those who make it into Grey Oceans, the duo’s fourth album, will first have to make it past the cover – a quite horrible concoction featuring energy crystals, faux-facial hair, and some of the worst typography ever to grace a record sleeve. While amusingly grotesque, it is something of a disservice to the record within, which is largely laidback in pace and gauzy in texture, even when it tosses in jaunty ragtime piano (see Hopscotch) or moody, hip hop-inherited boom-boom-clap beats (The Moon Asked the Crow).
Whatever fripperies are erected around them, much of Grey Oceans depends on the vocals and songs of the sisters themselves. Sadly, much of these feel a little lacking. Bianca sings in a child-like coo that doesn’t totally irritate, but doesn’t really connect either, and the soporific mood that hangs over songs like Undertaker and Gallows tends to come across as a lack of focus.
What saves Grey Oceans is the occasional good idea: the Eastern-tinged Smokey Taboo mixes tablas and wilting strings with Bianca’s woozy, half-rapped vocal to impressive effect, while the very peculiar Fairy Paradise is, more or less, Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy as remixed by Paul van Dyk. The first minute or so is delicate music-box chimes and a quiet pulse of filtered synths – but then, as Bianca mutters that “trance music makes the fairies dance”, the beat drops, and the weirdest rave-up ever kicks off down the bottom of your garden.