Björk-Humping Wanna-Bes Just Keep Getting Worse

In February of this year, ex–Talking Head David Byrne curated a week's worth of music at the venerable Carnegie Hall. One night featured his opera based on sneaker fiend Imelda Marcos, while another featured a clutch of young singer-songwriters who often fall under the "freak-folk" banner. Dubbed "Welcome to Dreamland," the evening featured the grand matron of the movement (the wispy songstress Vashti Bunyan, who has released one album per century), as well as its prodigal son, Devendra Banhart, in addition to fine craftsmen like Vetiver and Adem. Not surprisingly, the night was a gentle, low-key affair, save for the opening act, CocoRosie.

Looking as if they had just finished raiding the wardrobe from Rainer Werner Fassbinder's film The Stationmaster's Wife, sisters Sierra and Bianca Casady took to the stage, one spinning coins on a miked-up music stand, while the rest of the band sat behind their respective instruments and began plinking piano, belting out haunting operatic lines, or beatboxing. Their set cherry-picked the band's then-forthcoming The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn, which was released a few weeks back on Touch and Go. All the while, a slowed-down portion of a My Little Pony cartoon was projected behind them, interspersed with home videos of some sort of b-girl mime. In no uncertain terms were they anything less than a nightmare to watch.

And yet, it wasn't too far from the band's métier, as debuted on 2004's La Maison de Mon Reve, which commingled high culture (opera) with lo-fi (recording in the bathroom of their Paris apartment). In fact, that willful juxtaposition remains wholly intact for Ghosthorse, only this time, their gauzy and limp freak folk is mixed with their love of hip-hop. Still, both attempts come across as jaw-clenching exercises in forced eclecticism pasted together by precocious, cutesy poses.

The Adventures of Ghosthorse and Stillborn only bears out that initial reaction. Opener "Rainbowarriors" rides bareback on samples of neighing horses, tweeting birds, mouth-scratching noises, and pseudo-rapping from Bianca, offset with the more effervescent sighs of Sierra. At best, it sounds like an update of Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping," being bombastically positive yet ethereal as well, but with more pony talk and sound snippets that were left out of cut 'n' paste pastiches back in the late '80s for being too wack.

When the girls can focus on one extreme or the other, the results are palatable. "Sunshine"—built on a warbling recording of kalimba, Rhodes organ, and a voice that sounds as if it were pulled off of a lost 78—and their duets with operatic eccentric Antony are similarly haunting and restrained. But the sisters cannot help but pile their influences on at every turn, to a point where the songs seem to be a temper-tantrum tug-of-war between the two.

Their love of Björk, while no shock, reached endgame when they hired her longtime collaborator Valgeir Sigurðsson to produce the disc. Having worked with Björk from her feature film Dancer in the Dark on up to Medulla, Sigurðsson helps them straddle the line between looped beats and airier instrumental beds. A pity he can't do a fucking thing about their vapid lyrical choices. Granted, it's tough to top a line from 2005's Noah's Ark that goes: "All of the aborted babies/Will turn into little Bambies," but the sisters do it on the atrocious "Japan," a calliope/reggae sort of sing-along with the lyric: "Everybody wants to go to Iraq/But once you go there, you don't come back." In 2007, who can seriously write a line like that?

"Promise" highlights Bianca's lemony and kittenish singsong rapping voice, promising: "If you take me inside then you give me a place to hide and cry/I'll bathe you in the crystal light [or is that Crystal Light?] that sleeps between my thighs." Never mind the freak-folk backdrops, CocoRosie share subject matter with Khia: necks, backs, pussies, cracks. Why they continually play dress-up in Björk or Tom Waits' kooky, creaky mannerisms is beyond me. Granted, I'm no doubt missing just who or what a Ghosthorse is (perhaps that unicorn getting butt-fucked on the cover of Noah's Ark?). Either way, they need to ditch all this fairy horseshit and get with some bubble crunk, and quick.

music@seattleweekly.com

 
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