Noah’s Ark

Piercingly beautiful feral folk music, but are CocoRosie quite as original as they'd like to be?

By Ed Chamberlin

This year, for the first time, I walked out of a concert. Strange to think after all the chances I’ve taken, seeing an unknown band on a whim, and the multitude of other concerts I’ve seen with only the barest idea of what was in store, none of them have been so toxically awful to drive me out of the room to escape. Anyone who was in the ICA in london to see Swedish synth duo The Knife may have reacted the same way: one song and I was out of there. Maybe this reaction was partly based on having heard the album Deep Cuts and actually being quite impressed – not blown away – but intrigued nonetheless. What I heard was so disappointing that I had to go.

CocoRosie, two sisters from New York, residing in Paris, had the opposite effect on me. I saw them with no prior knowledge about them and they were excellent. Their core sound of operatic vocals, folk singing, plinky instruments (harp, glockenspiel and the like) combined with laconic beatboxing and malfunctioning machinery was intoxicating, as though someone had taken the peripheral elements of disparate genres and dropped them in the sink to swirl around one another, never quite gelling, until they were sucked down the plughole.

These elements are pretty familiar in today’s scene; Múm, Efterklang and Animal Collective live off this sound, and the feral atmosphere of the songs were reminiscent of Juana Molina, Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom (whose until now unique vocals are very well approximated by CocoRosie’s Sierra). Most people, if they hadn’t already done so, left Bush Hall that night with their hands rummaging in their pockets to buy that sound on record.

Much like The Knife not representing their sound well live, CocoRosie’s sound comes across flat and one dimensional on Noah’s Ark. The sounds that echoed in my head from the concert, wildly different and disconcertingly amputated from one another, are so well incorporated on record that the originality of their combination is completely lost, and what you have here an album that strives for that same dreamy prettiness as Múm, and hits its target, but remains uninspiring to those familiar with the Icelandic group and any others currently peddling this sound.

That’s the thing; they do hit their mark over and over again. K-hole, South 2nd and the title track would have knocked anyone out of their seat with their hazy beauty five years ago, but now just sit there comfortably in the clicky genre they belong in, not imposing themselves.

Having said that, they will never be defined as glitch-pop, or whatever people are calling it today, partly because, geographically, they fit into a much wider definition: free folk. Their animal fixation (manipulated loops of the Care Bears were projected onto the back screen during the concert and they called on the audience to make ‘the most feral jungle noises’ we could during one drowned out piece) places them squarely in the same drawer as Animal Collective, Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom (and perhaps, by extension also Sunburned Hand of the Man and Grizzly Bear). Incidentally, the absolute stand out track on Noah’s Ark is Beautiful Boyz, featuring the astounding voice of Antony from Antony & the Johnsons, who possesses the single most startling voice of the millennium so far – check out this year’s I am a Bird Now for proof. Of course, that album featured Devendra Banhart on one song, who played with Vashti Bunyan, who has collaborated with Animal Collective, and Joanna Newsom who has been involved with all these people, has her piercing voice perfectly replicated on Noah’s Ark by Sierra. This scene is displaying the same incestuous multi-guestspotting normally attributed to jazz. Perhaps the scene will gradually swallow up anyone who enters it, as they all collaborate and mix’n’match in the forest they inhabit until the genre dies out. Well, maybe not.

So, yes, decent album, but ultimately not great. Go see them live and be blown away, but if you then buy their record hoping for the same beautiful catharsis, you will be disappointed. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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