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CocoRosie - Grey Oceans

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Artist: CocoRosie

Album: Grey Oceans

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Jun. 24, 2010

I honestly can’t tell whether CocoRosie is interesting or infuriating -- rich kids playing dress up or avant-garde pop weirdos, calculated fakes or genuine humans, or all of these, none of these or what. This sort of ambiguity is sometimes fine if that’s the goal, though to be completely truthful, it seems an awfully empty aesthetic goal to inspire indecision in one’s audience. But forget all the fake arguments about authenticity. The real question concern’s an artist’s genuineness. When you listen to the album, do you get a sense that there is a genuine human who made the artwork.

In the case of Grey Oceans, the answer is a sort-of muddled no. The flash point for a number of people is of course the Casady’s voices, which can be quite beautiful at times, and at other times -- when in baby talk mode -- not so beautiful. Their voices are interesting though, and most criticism is based on no more than personal taste, not any aesthetic argument for or against. Joanna Newsom also gets caught up in these kind of criticisms. For a number who argue against the way they choose to sing, they often found their argument by calling them inauthentic. “Is it really her voice? Does she actually sing like that?” Who cares? Authenticity is overrated; like I mentioned above, the real question is, is there a genuine human that shines through?

So, I began to think, why are these two criticized for their voices, but someone like Meredith Monk is revered for her weirdness? I think it comes down to the fact that the music that Newsom and CocoRosie make is dripping with melodrama. Voices that in other cases are playful and fun (like Monk’s on Dolmen Music), take on a Serious tone in the Casadys’ case. I think people might give them a wider berth if they were just being silly. It’s often the case that Serious Art eschews the silly in the grasp for legitimacy, but so much of the avant-garde is flat-on-its-face ridiculous, and it’s when this ridiculousness is taken seriously that something real is lost. A piece of art can be silly and ridiculous and still make a real point. However, the Serious Art World and the Critical Art World are so divorced from reality that attempts at silliness and humor are seen as frivolous. Because silly needs the real world for it to work. Ridiculous is only ridiculous against the backdrop of the actual world. CocoRosie seem so tied up in their melodrama and their invented world that their inherent silliness can’t find any purchase. So, to many people, it just comes off as grating.

Part of my ambivalence, as well, has to do with the economic climate. Sierra and Bianca Casady come from a privileged background. They spent their childhood moving from city to city with their mother, Christina Chalmers, an artist, and eventually Sierra ended up in Paris training to sing opera, while Bianca ended up in New York City. It’s important to note their economic privilege because the avant-garde world-building that CocoRosie engages on their albums goes hand-in-hand with economic independence. They are rich and therefore get to play with reality

I suppose playing with aesthetic reality is infinitely better than the morally repugnant monsters at Goldman Sachs or BP or the Defense Department who arrogantly think their wealth entitles them to play with actual reality, but the constant theme that ranges over both groups is that wealth insulates these people from having to deal with the real world, and in the case of the ethical monsters, having to deal with the repercussions of their arrogance.

In CocoRosie’s case, this goes back to that issue of genuineness. Do I get a sense of them as genuine humans from the album? The truth is no. They feel like fake people and the album feels artificial as a result. Obviously, in some cases, the artist wants the music to feel artificial and that’s a specific aesthetic choice. If that was the Casadys’ choice here, it doesn’t help the music, which, due to the baby voices, already feels unreal, and this just makes it feel more alien. Without any kind of real human touchstone, this just floats out there. It either needs to at least nod to actual humanity or just be off-the-wall insane, but doing neither, it just comes off as fake. Grey Oceans falls in-between the cracks of the extremes, and while still an interesting album, feels too shallow and too Serious.

By Andrew Beckerman

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