“Smoke ‘Em Out,” when released back in January, was positioned as a protest song, timed as it was to coincide with the massive Women’s March on Washington, the day after the U.S. president* was elected*. And you can surely sense righteous and rightful anger and frustration here. But as protest songs go, this one is elusive at best. The lyrics, as often with CocoRosie songs, scan as randomly associated words (but scan they do; the Casady sisters are masters of rhythmic authenticity), and together add up to little more than an intriguing mystery. But hell if they say this is a protest song, I’m all in. We need as many of them as we can muster.
We also need as many talented and idiosyncratic musicians as Bianca and Sierra Casady as we can encourage. Doing musical business as CocoRosie since 2004, the sisters have consistently trafficked in a quirky but captivating sound that blends a dizzying variety of musical elements together into something unusually gripping. While pundits like to point out their proclivity at creating an unusual mix of the lo-fi and the tightly produced, the amalgam of theirs I find personally gratifying is their simultaneous commitment to eccentricity and accessibility. This strikes me as a rare treat in today’s musical landscape, which has tended to polarize towards the almost fascistically formulaic on the one hand and the blatantly outre on the other.
Glitchy percussion, child-like synth lines, appealing chord washes, “Smoke ‘Em Out” has all of that just in the ear-catching introduction. When the lyrics start, the song incorporates Bianca’s rap-like delivery into a beautifully sculpted aural environment. The Casadys’ long-time friend Anonhi brings her distinctive voice to the impressively succinct chorus, but I think it’s actually Bianca’s lines after Anonhi sings (first heard at 1:42) that seals this song’s triumph. Her singing voice is here processed in an old-school, megaphonic way, and while mimicking the precision of her rapped verses in her first sung line, in the second line she holds back and releases her words exquisitely behind the beat; that this lyric coincides with a sneaky musical resolution has a lot to do with how satisfying the song feels.
Based in France, CocoRosie has been featured on Fingertips twice previously: in March 2007 and in April 2010. Longtime friends with Anonhi, the sisters previously worked with her on 2013’s Tales of a Grass Widow. Their most recent album was 2015’s Heartache City. “Smoke ‘Em Out” is so far a single only. MP3 via KEXP.