The Casady sisters’ first album in five years marks a return to their maximalist tendencies, piling on drum machines, chintzy synthesizers, over-the-top raps, and nu-metal guitars.
For most of their 16-year tenure as CocoRosie, sisters Bianca and Sierra Casady have tried to untangle the complicated childhood history they share. Born in Iowa and Hawaii to a compulsively nomadic couple, they spent many of their early summers on Native reservations while their parents sat in on peyote circles. After a decade of estrangement, the sisters reunited as young adults in France, and began ruminating on their unusual family memories via a singular mix of twisted freak-folk and lo-fi hip-hop. Their catalog touts moments of sublime melody and atmosphere amid a lot of questionable artistic choices. Put the Shine On, their seventh album and first in five years, marks a return to CocoRosie’s more maximalist tendencies after a period of sparer work, piling on drum machines, chintzy synthesizers, over-the-top raps, and nu-metal guitars.
The Casady sisters recorded much of Put the Shine On in San Francisco, working on the record between visits to their mother, who died 11 days after she tracked backing vocals for “Ruby Red,” a song about her own life and death. Despite its closeness to mortality, “Ruby Red” is more a celebration of life than a dirge. But that complicated tone—praising a parent newly passed as you survey how they’ve made you who you are—gets blunted in the record’s production. Stock hip-hop beats and clumsy synth bass take up outsize space in the mix, dominating the sound with rhythmic elements to which the sisters’ vocals never quite adhere.
Generational trauma, mental illness, and sexual violence tumble through Shine’s lyrics, as they have on past CocoRosie albums, but the language used to approach these weighty themes tends towards the archetypal rather than the specific. Little girls sprint through the woods avoiding men and wolves; Biblical symbols of lamb and sheep populate multiple songs. When the images aren’t tired, they’re baffling. CocoRosie use “Britney Spears” as a verb on two different tracks, with little clarity about which aspect of that complicated figure they mean to deploy.
Bianca and Sierra’s voices, whose tight harmonies and curdled edges comprised the most striking aspect of earlier CocoRosie records, tend to get lost in the surfeit of production elements on this one. Saloon piano, fuzz bass, and a scuffling snare crowd out lyrics about a woman roaming the country without a home on “Restless.” On “Smash My Head,” distorted power chords straight out of early 2000s alternative radio blare over a jittery IDM beat. Harp loops and field recordings of animals and warbling synth leads all compete for attention in the album’s busy jumble, burying its narrative elements in an incoherent melange.
In a 2019 interview, CocoRosie admitted that they had never listened to Chance the Rapper before the Chicago artist approached them to contribute a feature to his album The Big Day. That a group who has availed itself of hip-hop elements for over a decade doesn’t keep up with some of its most ubiquitous players is maybe not all that surprising: CocoRosie tend to rap as if to highlight their own distance from the form, to play up its incongruousness with their position as white indie artists shielded by a heavy layer of quirk. On Put the Shine On, when they rap lines about familial abandonment in an aloof, sing-songy chirp, the effect of both their words and the way they choose to deliver them gets muddied. The pain behind the words is real, but its rendering starts to feel like a bit.