COCOROSIE with BRIGHT EYES and TILLY & THE WALL at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Friday (January 21), all ages, 5 pm. $22.50 (sold out). 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Forget Philly - Paris is the new City of Sisterly Love.
A little while ago, ethereal sister act CocoRosie fell prey to the same odd charm that caused that poor paint-splattered feline to suffer the affections of Pepe LePew in Warner Brothers cartoons. After what they describe as years of acrimony and estrangement, Bianca Casady tracked down her opera-studying older sib, Sierra, in the French capital.
Like so many Parisian visitors before them, they laughed, they cried, they, er, dressed up as weird characters and wrote music in the bathtub. And when the water had gone down the drain, the ladies were left with a rekindled relationship and a brand new band.
"We both have very strong personalities and are very close in age, and it made us hate each other growing up," explains Sierra. "But getting back together was a pretty mysterious, magical experience."
Part of their healing process came out of writing the songs that would become CocoRosie's decidedly odd and often heartbreaking debut disc, La Maison De Mon Rêve (Touch & Go), the title of which translates, sweetly, as "the house of my dream."
The album took shape through a weird and mystical process that involved the aforementioned costumes and bathtub songwriting, drinking loads of champagne in the early morning and Bianca's enterprising experimentation with unconventional percussion, from rattling chain belts to setting off windup toys.
According to the sisters Casady, they never intended the recordings to reach anyone beyond themselves and their nearest and dearest.
Sounds a lot like inner child therapy, huh?
La Maison De Mon Rêve sounds as innocently offbeat as you'd expect. The Casadys draw on old, creaky Delta blues, lo-fi triphop beats, dreamlike found sounds, naive folky gospel and a layering of divergent vocal techniques that sounds like different characters with different personalities are chiming in on a hallucinatory children's chorus.
The result is a surreal, spiritual fusion that has ties to the genre-hopping indie opuses of the Fiery Furnaces and the Unicorns - not exactly what you'd expect from a classically trained aspiring opera diva.
"Bianca caught me at a very interesting moment," Sierra offers. "I was working on this idea of being an opera star. I've always been really into serious drama and serious passion. Certainly the classical society takes itself too seriously, and obviously I don't fit in with them very well. But there was something about the gothic drama of it; the seriousness was like a drug to me.
"Still," she continues, "there was a part of me that needed to move away from that."
One thing that sets CocoRosie apart from their self-consciously quirky indie peers, however, is the wobbly social satire of their lyrics. Buried amidst Bianca's cryptic stream-of-consciousness scribblings about Rilke, angels and rainbow Skittles, you can hear raw critiques of the status quo.
At times, her writing teeters on the edge of maudlin, as in the album-closing Lyla, which tells the sad story of a young prostitute. More complicated is the wispy spiritual hymn Jesus Loves Me, a sharp stab at the hypocrisy of Christian extremists that sounds like it was cribbed from Alan Lomax's field recordings.
While it's a terribly beautiful song that gets the job done, Bianca's inclusion of the controversial n-word in the lyrics is a dicey choice for non-black folks.
"I never felt weird about using it in the lyrics," she plainly states. "A few times when we've played in music stores, they asked us not to say it. I guess they didn't feel very confident in our message. It's pointing out the exclusivity of Christianity. It may not have been prevalent in my home, but it's so embedded in the culture of America."