Cocorosie // Tales Of A Grass Widow // May 27, 2013 // City Slang
All music is subjective and we’d go as far as to say that all sound is a form of music. Some of it is intended to be pretty, part of it is confrontational. This “indie” music that we’ve been dealing with for most of our lives is but a drop in the ocean. But when you dedicate your life to the sound, you want to do something that would deliver pleasure, emotional or material. Cocorosie is one of those acts who really confront the listener when it comes to expectations about what a female experimental folk duo should be doing. For those of you who are new to this unit, you’ll be filled in shortly. To those who are currently going “gee, I wonder what does the new Cocorosie album sounds like”, all we have to say is, somewhat conformist.
Cocorosie are as despised as they are loved for their art and their image. All of this before we even get to talk about their music. Their brand on somewhat medieval influenced freak folk was a pretty weird prospect back in the mid noughties. Compared to this, the rest of the New Weird America movement may as well be model republicans for all you care. The duo certainly do not come across as humans that you would like to connect with. The Casady sisters got rich parents who made them quit school just so they could be “artists” too. With all that money at their disposal they still choose to record their albums in ridiculous locales. And then on top of that, they give their records atrocious sleeves that are as painful to look at as they are embarrassing to explain. All of this brings us to their fifth studio effort Tales Of A Grass Widow. This particular collection of songs, relatively speaking, features a bigger emphasis towards the song as something that possesses a possibility to be catchy and enjoyable without requiring the listener to be a transgender farmer.
For long stretches of their career, Cocorosie didn’t see music the way we do. They took part in what felt more like theatrical performance art lacking the obligatory imagery. What’s more, their lyrics and their image is confrontational to the point where it dares the listener to fully hate the sisters. Tales Of A Grass Widow, being much more melodic than some of their previous albums, goes some way to make amends. The hip hop influence here is much more pronounced and some of the patterns on tracks like Villain and Gravedigress are pretty generic stuff that you hear on the radio all of the time. In this band’s case, this is a good thing. Then there’s some more traditional folk stuff, like Roots Of My Hair, another result of what sounds like an unhealthy obsession with Vashti Bunyan. Mostly though, for all the hi-art the record surrounds itself with, it’s still little more than an overly tryhard tribute to Björk There’s the must have Antony Hegarty collaboration on the pretty awkward Tears For Animals. And of course there’s the vocals, which feel less faux-French and more faux-Icelandic by the minute. Worst of all is the limitations that sisters possess as singers. Their Björk lite vocalisations were interesting when music matched it. In the context of a pop record like Tales Of A Grass Widow, this is little more than an awkward display of inability to transform and adapt.
The weirdest thing is, Tales Of A Grass Widow isn’t even that bad of a record. It takes the shameless Medulla beatboxing and farming on acid folk instrumentals to craft some actual songs with a sense of purpose and a direction. Some moments, like Gravedigress and Child Bride are good in a pop song perspective of things. At the same time though, this conformist stance that the record adopts makes its weirder moments sound simply bad. With a lesser emphasis on 80s synth pads, a song like Far Away could’ve been one of their traditional 2deep4u moments. On this record, these moments act as evidence that Cocorosie, for all their artist freedom, are atrocious songwriters. Villains for example feels like the sort of crime against humanity that the recent Tegan & Sara album was full of. In a way, Tales Of A Grass Widow is up there with Grey Oceans as Cocorosie’s most user friendly record. At the same time, it’s safe, the sounds used here are tired and the songwriting is rarely above average. In short, you no longer want to punch these two, but you’d still piss on them.
Various Artists // Just Tell Me That You Want Me // August 14 // Hear Music
Here’s a first, me voicing my thoughts on a tribute album. I mostly tend to ignore them because they are largely irrelevant lump of overstuffed mess, combining many different artists approaching one idea and sounding like the most disjointed band on the planet. That is very much the case with Just Tell Me That You Want Me, a tribute to Fleetwood Mac. The trick is, while it has people like Lee Ranaldo, Billy Gibbons, Marianne Faithfull and such, it also has Lykke Li, Tame Impala, MGMT and Washed Out. So why not?
Before approaching Just Tell Me That You Want Me you have to ask yourself, are you already a fan of Fleetwood Mac? This compilation consists of their most famous songs from the latter half of their career. It’s not Rumours plus couple of other tracks, the compilation does have some tracks from the largely ignored period before Stevie Nicks joined the band. There are no radical changes to the sound by any of the artists here, most of the tracks stick to their original versions while being played with the sound that the covering artists show in their day jobs. Just Tell Me That You Want Me is predictable and that’s quite a shame considering just how different the employed staff here can be. Washed Out turns Straight Back into a chillwave track, Antony Hegarty removes any trace of Stevie Nicks while delivering his version of Landslide, Lykke Li handles her folked out Scandi pop on Silver Springs. Really, other than the songwriters, Fleetwood Mac have very little space on this record that makes me wonder, what’s the difference between a tribute and a half arsed cover album?
Not that Just Tell Me That You Want Me is all separate artists doing their own thing. That’s the case with the young guns. The older names here are the ones that aren’t egoistic enough to eradicate every last trace of their song’s original sound. The New Pornographers sound like they’ve been transported few decades back in time on Think About Me, which is saying something as it’s not like they were the most forward looking bunch to start with. ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons does his own riff heavy take on Oh Well and you know what, all elitism aside it’s the hardest rocking track on here and one that retains Fleetwood Mac’s original bluesy sound while having on foot in the heavier region of rock. Marianne Faithfull herself turns Angel into one of the most beautiful moments on the record showing what the power of a voice can do. It pains me to say it but one of the only young acts who do justice to Fleetwood Mac’s sound is Best Coast, who take one of Mac’s best tracks - Rhiannon and turn it into a blues meets country hybrid, completely ignoring their usual generic indie sound. I’m almost impressed. Too many bands on here focus on doing what they do every day instead of actually paying tribute to Fleetwood Mac’s sound. Therefore these moments when they’re willing to step out of their comfort zone are rare but precious.
It’s only a shame that there aren’t more of them. 17 tracks long Just Tell Me That You Want Me features a lot of artists that you never heard of before and will probably never hear of again because they are entirely forgettable. Trixie Whitley, Karen Elson, Gardens & Villa, these are just few names who’s versions leave your mind before you can even register them. The tracklist on Just Tell Me That You Want Me is as unfocused as you can get, it’s not surprising that the album ends up sounding all over the place too. Oh and if you were wondering, Dreams is being covered by The Kills, and it’s sort of shit.
Antony & The Johnsons // Cut The World // August 6 // Rough Trade
No matter who releases a live album, I always tend to look at them through my glasses made for being suspicious. It’s like a greatest hits release, you need to have something to back up the live album. Antony & The Johnsons is the latest group to release a live album. Cut The World consists of a new track, an 8 minute piece of banter and a lot of other tracks scattered across his discography consisting of 3 most famous albums and a handful of EPs. In other people’s hands this could just be a half arsed version of a greatest hits collection but this is Antony were talking about, it’s so much more when he’s at the deck.
First thing that you will notice is that this is definitely a release that just focuses on Antony’s most famous song. The trio of singles from the big three albums: Hope There’s Someone, Aeon and Thank You For Your Love are nowhere to be found, and those are arguably his biggest songs. Instead he opts for such forgotten tracks as I Fell In Love With A Dead Boy from the EP of the same name and even Cripple And A Starfish from his largely forgotten debut self-titled record. There are fan favourites like Epilepsy Is Dancing, You Are My Sister and The Crying Light on here but more than segregating the singles from the rest of the bunch, Antony & The Johnsons deliver a complete package, one where every song, every moment is worthwhile. Some people will argue about the tracklist and maybe the lack of new songs (considering just how amazing the title track is) and more banter (considering how thoughtful and well educated he comes across in Future Feminism) but make no mistake. Cut The World is not odds and sods, it’s the moment where even his lesser moments flourish.
Obvious thing to note is that Antony’s music has always packed more that can be grasped by a little studio room. As far as everyone is concerned, Cut The World is the best sounding Antony And The Johnsons record to date. Other than Future Feminism, there are no applause or any other sounds to distract you from the music itself. For someone who makes baroque music, it’s extra important to make sure that all of your instruments sound great. Some of Antony’s previous LPs sounded a bit soft, not as hard hitting. Cut The World is near perfect in its delivery. Hit lyrics have always aimed for your heart, this time the instruments join him too. Despite all this heart stuff, at times even Antony could sound a bit far fetched. The addition of Future Feminism and arguably the centerpiece on here sorts that out. On it he talks about the Moon, oceans, Earth, politics and religion among other things. He says things that you always expected him to say but for someone who made Hope There’s Someone, a track unrivalled in its sadness, here Antony sounds surprisingly optimistic, a man who believes that despite all the struggle that we are living though, he believes that future does exist. Cut The World is a very literal live album then as on here Antony sounds more human than ever before.
Cut The World ultimately does what very few artists do on their live albums, they feel more natural and less restricted than they do on their studio LPs while delivering a tracklist that doesn’t make you go “where are the hits”. Instead you’ll be scratching your head and thinking “why haven’t I loved these songs before”, that’s if you haven’t already. The world needs more musicians like Antony, not because he makes “real music”, not because he sings about “real emotions”. It’s because he’s a complex human being who can take you to highest highs and lowest lows. His music makes you feel alive and on his live album, Antony is more alive than ever before.