When I attended college, I opened my mind to ideas and culture that I had never thought about or been witness to before. I felt the need to absorb, learn about, and understand anything and everything that constituted “newness” to me. Definitely a cliched concept, but cliches are what they are for a reason, right?. As an active (and rather obsessed) member of WKDU, Drexel University’s free-format student-run radio station, I spent countless hours laying around on third-hand couches in the auxiliary listening room, or sitting crosslegged in the massive record and CD stacks, or crouching down to dig through piles of unorganzied music. I imagined myself as a sponge, taking in and retaining as much as I possibly could. I have a few truly vivid memories of hearing “band x” or discovering “album y” for the first time. In the chill of jaded music and music-industry thoughts and the bleakness of impersonal internet listening habits, I stoke these memories back to dark-red embers to renew the warm passion that comes from a simple love of music – discovering it, listening to it, seeing it, and sharing it – then I feel better.
While spending my time in that sacred windowless basement space, a band that throttled my conceptions of genre, style, instrumentation, and songwriting was CocoRosie. They continue to do so. The thing about the Sisters Casady and co. is that you can never stay comfortable for too long while listening to them. Once you start to figure it all out, they completely change the game by introducing new variables into their sound and challenging what you are hearing and believing about them. I first discovered their 2007 album The Adventures Of Ghosthorse & Stillborn and tried to grasp what I heard. It was not easy for my uninitiated ears. Too quickly and easily described as “experimental” or “freak-folk” to make sense, it is much more difficult to label the band. They write fairy tale stories definitely not meant for children, ballads that sound simultaneously antiquated and futuristic, hip-hop that eschews hip-hop conventions, folk music that disregards folk music instrumentation, and so on. In a way, CocoRosie take on everything and the result is a new sound. Not all of it is easy to listen to though. It is often violent in imagery, chaotic in sound, and jolting in transition. But the space between disturbing and serene is large and CocoRosie exist on that whole spectrum, sometimes during the same song or even the same minute.
On their fifth album, Tales of a GrassWidow, released last year and produced by former Folkadelphia Sessioneer Valgeir Sigurðsson, the Casadys and their collaborators maintain those inimitable and indescribable elements of their previous work, while expanding their focus to incorporate a greater pop sensibility. The album is a sleekly laminated collage of sounds, styles, and colors – what a journey.
At the end of 2013, CocoRosie spent the evening recording with us in the studio, giving us a taste of what their live show sounded like. Heavier on the hip-hop and dance elements, like beatboxing and synth pads, they showed us that even with their complex music, they can still bring a party.