Music

Why Do People Hate CocoRosie?

An Examination in Six Parts

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COCOROSIE ARE A divisive, if not flat-out widely disliked, band. The twee, folk-adelic, fond-of-beatboxing sister act's last three albums have landed in the 2.3–5.1 range of Pitchfork's 10 rating system, while Metacritic's more forgiving metrics give those albums a mean (in the mathematical, not the snarky sense) rating of 59, 60, and 67 out of 100, respectively. In academic terms, those are Fs and (to quote Kanye West quoting Radio Raheem) "Ds, motherfucker, Ds."

Beyond the numbers, of course, people just say mean things about sisters Sierra and Bianca Casady. Spin, in a zero-stars review of their 2005 sophomore album, Noah's Ark, memorably said: "They make each shimmer of postnatal whimsy seem like an eternal gulag of the spotless mind." Why all the hate? We attempt to get to the bottom of this pressing issue.

They're Privileged/They're Appropriators

Call this the Vampire Weekend argument. In terms of privilege, Sierra and Bianca grew up the children of an artist/teacher mother who encouraged them to drop out of school and a father devoted to Native American/psychedelic shamanism. The pair started the band while living in Paris, la-di-da, and recorded their first album, La maison de mon rêve, in a (presumably claw-foot) bathtub. Sierra studied opera; Bianca worked as a model. This apparently luxe life rubs some folks the wrong way, especially when the sisters start dabbling in hiphop tropes or talking up the influence of the Wu-Tang Clan. But even if you're a class warrior, it's just bad form to discount someone's artistic merit because of her supposed socioeconomic background. And it's equally dense and antiquated to accuse CocoRosie's magpie style of unfair "appropriation" when we live in a culture that is, now more than ever, cross-pollinating, globalized, and multilingual, where people can listen to and engage with and produce all types of music without necessarily being tourists or neocolonialists, where no one "owns" hiphop, etc.

They Dropped the "N-Bomb"

Although, to be fair, so did John and Yoko and Patti Smith about a million years ago. But context matters, so let's cut to the CocoRosie song in question, "Jesus Loves Me": "Jesus loves me/But not my wife/Not my nigger friends/Or their nigger lives." The song, with its affected Billie Holiday warble and its lazy back-porch, blues-guitar plucking, is an antique grotesquerie in keeping with the band's frequently deployed old-timey affectations. Still, this kind of face-value blackface revivalism reads a lot less powerfully than Lennon/Ono or Smith's pointed uses of epithet as analogy. If you're going to try to shock, you better not forget to awe.

They're Women

This is the argument that CocoRosie get more shit for all their lame crap than they would if they were dudes. Without pretending we live in some post-gender paradise, it's safe to say that all the hate heaped on Vampire Weekend for grappling with the aesthetics of class or, say, any number of white male rappers for playing fast and loose with hiphop's codes of race and authenticity, proves that guys get called out on this nonsense, too.

That Album Cover

The Casady sisters have a thing for deliberately bad cover art and they may like to play with hiphop idioms, but the cover for Grey Oceans has a loooooong way to go before it gets around the horn to being so bad that it's good, à la Pen & Pixel's mighty, Master P–fueled run of deliciously lowbrow digital excess in the late '90s. This just looks like their avatars for World of LOLcraft.

They Don't Deserve to Be on Sub Pop

This objection falls apart pretty quickly when you consider that Sub Pop's storied catalog is full of oddball, occasionally awful records alongside its grunge canon; it has never shied away from signing an unusual act, especially if it might stir up some good controversy.

Their Music Is Terrible

Okay, so this one is subjective, but it's also the only good reason for hating the band. It's not damning that they engage with hiphop or affect old-timey mannerisms, it's that the results are so facile and fallow and precious. It's that their songs somehow manage to be both grating and yet so flimsy that they're barely even there. At its best moments, Grey Oceans oscillates between acceptable background music and total annoyance—your ears will prick up for the nicked Eastern rhythm and melody of "Smokey Taboo," for instance, but your tentative goodwill will be dashed by the cloying ragtime intro of "Hopscotch." You'll enjoy the music for a moment before those damn elfin, have-one-on-Joanna-Newsom vocals kick back in. Repeat ad nauseam.

Or better yet, don't.

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