CocoRosie's Noah's Ark arrives a year after their debut album La Maison De Mon Rev, an album that saw estranged sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady reuniting randomly in France to record a tiny album of brittle acoustics and warbling vocals, whose fidelity and instrumental skills exposed a duo still shaking off years of separation. That album was a surprisingly polarizing one, counting roughly the same number of detractors as it did out-and-out fans. I tended to fall more in line with the latter, for despite its inconsistencies and lulls, it was shot through with enough oddball lyrical imagery and jagged folk moves to warrant repeated listenings.
It's doubtful that their latest long player will go a ways towards bridging that gap between lovers and haters. Noah's Ark tends to mine the same inspirational fields while distinctly upping the freak quotient (purely aesthetic cases in point: the three unicorns forming a "train," so to speak, on the cover and photos of the sisters decked in gear seemingly gained from raiding the closets of some hippies, Native Americans, and basketball players).
Songwise, the sisters are still at the same place: lazily plucked guitars, random toy instruments, drum machines, and Sierra's former operatic range attempting to wrap itself around Karen Dalton. Combining these elements could have mixed results, and much like their debut, Noah's Ark is not an end-to-end stunner. But there are bright spots throughout, and the sisters display a consistent penchant for deviating from standard folk and twee pop lyrical imagery. Example: you try writing a song using an analogy of a "spirit in a k-hole," as they do on the album's opener, and see if you can get away with it as capably as they can. And "Tekno Love Song" is, thankfully, anything but, preferring instead autoharp and gentle guitar as a backdrop for criminal love. A chorus of female voices swoons through the refrain on "Armageddon," forming a nice contrast to the loose percussion and moody keyboard swells.
The album is also bolstered by the inclusion of a couple of newly anointed modern folk icons, as well as several promising up-and-comers. Antony (of the Johnsons fame) checks in to help salute some "Beautiful Boyz," lending his piano and unmistakably haunting croon. Devendra Banhart graces "The Sea Is Calm" with some phoned-in (literally) sweet French nothings. Diane Cluck lends her beautiful voice to the insistent thump of the title track for a tune that ends up becoming a surprisingly beat savvy album highlight.
That some of the most memorable moments on Noah's Ark come at the hands of guest stars isn't a very promising sign. But at the same time, those friends plug directly into Sierra and Bianca's twisted worldview without necessarily imposing their own. And to be honest, not being overshadowed by Devendra or Antony would be almost superhuman. But as it stands, the sisters' latest disc finds them taking the threads begun with their debut and gradually weaving them into rich, bizarre tapestries. Stitches, out of time.
By Michael Crumsho