ALBUM: True Love Kills the Fairy Tale
ARTIST: The Casket Girls
The Casket Girls’ second album, True Love Kills the Fairy Tale, is a repository of musings and dreamscapes that border the philosophical, the visceral, and the unconscious. Sisters, Phaedra and Elsa Greene from Savannah, GA, provide the fluid, cherubic, haunted (and haunting) voices for electronically created backdrops. Ryan Graveface, originator of Graveface records and member of Black Moth Super Rainbow, Dreamend, and the Marshmallow Ghosts, uses his electronic wizardry to create landscapes that complement the Greene sisters’ aphoristic lyricism. If the Casket Girls are our dark sage guiding our trek through a strangely constructed landscape, then Graveface is the landscape’s architect. Together, they navigate us through dreamlike settings where thoughts are cloudy, love is strange, and love can be a stranger. It may be helpful to visualize this album on a spectrum: On one end is the super duo Icona Pop, securing their position as the cool girls of today’s electro pop—their songs becoming anthems for the millennial sisterhood. On the other end is CocoRosie, the sisters who innovated a unique sound that ventures toward the melodic weird (some call it “freak folk”)—creatively using various instruments and objects of noise to concoct layered melodies veined in hip hop, opera, folk, and electronica. The Casket Girls are closer to CocoRosie, but manage to procure a catchiness that makes this album one you can easily sing along to. The Casket Girls’ accessible and authentic “weirdness” is most evident in their lyricism and their lyricism is what makes this album particularly effective. It’s not that cheap, disposable weird content—the kind of weird that’s trendy and weird for weird’s sake. Instead, it’s a weirdness that stems from experiences that touch the fantastic, the unconscious, the uncanny, the unknown, the spiritual, and the unapproachable, but is all grounded in a familiar reality. Their lyricism is a kaleidoscopic exposé on large questions of life, love, and self-experience.
The Greene sisters’ voices melt together into a harmonious palimpsest. The layering—the writing over each other’s voices—creates a synchronicity that reveals just enough asymmetry to leave the listener curious. Sometimes, their voices are so aligned it’s difficult to distinguish two distinct voices. However, in all cases, their voices interact to remind you that this isn’t a single person. And if it were a single person, it’d be a single split person—a sort of Gemini figure having a conversation with itself. The sisters sing on a spectrum of twinning or mirroring, layering, call and response, and a chasing after. The sisters synchronize their voices to create a memorable juxtaposition of ethereality and substance. This ethereality is supported by their lilted, cherubic voices, rising and falling calmly. The substance is found in their abstract rhetoric like the one driving “Chemical Dizzy.” Here, the sisters sing speech that borders the theoretical and philosophical—“in between the question and reason” and “opposites only exist with each other.” In the title track, the sisters open with “it was madness that moved you from the known to the unknown.” The sisters’ rhetoric is one concerned with the liminal. Graveface does an effective job echoing the meanderings of the sisters’ voices while providing instrumentals that support the vocals and deepen the messages they carry. Usually, however, the tracks accumulate and progress in expected ways. Because the sounds don’t mess with our expectations, we’re encouraged to focus on the sisters’ lyricism. Without this negotiation in sound, their lyricism would be less noticeable and less effective.
The title of the album suggests a reconfiguring or even admonishment of the fairy tale. If “true love kills the fairy tale,” then a fairy tale love is untrue. The story behind this album is, in itself, a bit of a “fairy tale”—only, it’s a bewildering romance between people and the sounds they make. Here’s the tale: Graveface dropped off a bunch of tracks for Phaedra and Elsa. After a mysterious hibernation, the sisters returned a recording of the album that immediately impressed Graveface. Phaedra and Elsa recorded the album exactly as they recorded their demo, though, as Graveface remarked on the album’s website, “...they [Phaedra and Elsa] really didn’t remember any of it.” The sisters “had to learn the songs as if someone else had written them entirely.” The magical turnaround, and the forgetting of the songs they created suggests the sisters occupied that very liminal space they lyricize throughout the album in order to create this album. The album’s title also provides some insight to the album’s sequencing. With its straightforward narrative, a distinct beginning, middle, and end, the fairy tale has a formulaic construction. The end is where we expect that guttural satisfaction of “happily ever after.” The album’s own sequencing has an arc that mimics the traditional composition of a fairy tale, but fails to maintain an interesting momentum. Though the album opens strongly, the “middle” of this album lacks in the luster I learned to expect from the first few songs. The album does pick up towards the end—the exit song a sweet return to the entrance song. Though the quieter and less progressive tracks feel the weakest, they can be seen as the narrative plateau before the climax. One can therefore deduce from the album’s arc that true love is a love that modulates and isn’t a single ascent to a final ecstatic moment. But this may be a generous reading of the album. At best, after experiencing the album as a single journey, the listener can recognize the tension between fantasy and reality. This album is a long night’s dream—a soft entering, and a slow pushing out. We sleep to join the sisters’ fantastical world then wake into our realities a bit groggy, a bit hungover. The sisters use Graveface’s sounds as the vessel for their lyricism—a vessel that is, in the end, a thoughtfully crafted casket.
“We are the preacher. We are the choir. Nobody is getting any higher.”