‘Vessels’ and the ever-expanding world of Frankie Cosmos
Adam Ramos | Thursday, April 5, 2018
Frankie Cosmos’s Greta Kline is tired of people dressing her up like a grandma for photo shoots — or so she explained to Vagabon’s Lætitia Tamko in a Talkhouse Podcast interview after a performance last year. The fascinating conversation finds the two indie rock powerhouses sharing a level of candidness rarely found in interviews — each shedding a poignant light on the ways they understand their respective positions within the industry.
For Kline, it’s clear that a lot has changed for her since winning the hearts of the indie music community with her charmingly sweet debut record “Zentropy” back in 2014. Now — along with rest of her backing band, Frankie Cosmos — Kline is a veteran in the scene. Just listen to the pride and excitement she exudes when describing how her band is playing a show on a beach in Croatia — a long way from the cramped DIY Brooklyn universe she used to inhabit.
But what does it mean for the music? For a band so entrenched in the ethos of DIY, a burgeoning popularity can raise more questions than answers. And that’s where we find “Vessels,” the third full-length from Kline and her band of jolly troubadours, and the first to be released on their new major record label, Sub Pop. Ultimately, these advances aid the record; “Vessels” is a captivatingly fun set of 18 slick tracks, many of which stand among some of the best in the band’s now-sizable discography.
While short songs have always been the norm in the world of Frankie Cosmos, they’ve never felt this immediate. Each track bursts with a distinct flavor before quickly fizzling into something new. The stripped-back, minimalist feel of earlier Cosmos records is replaced on “Vessels” with something more urgent, something more compelling. Much of this newfound punch is a result of changes in the recording process, with Kline taking a step back and her band a step forward.
For tracks like “Being Alive” and “Cafeteria,” percussion is the clear standout feature of the instrumentation, a feat rarely accomplished in a Cosmos track. Indeed, throughout the record there seems to be a greater persistence on complicating the traditional, albeit patented, Frankie Cosmos formula. Needling guitar melodies, whirling synthesizers and prominent backing vocals all aid in helping the band craft a new, fuller and more eclectic sound.
Take, for example, “The Ballad of R & J,” a clear standout on the record and a song quite different from anything the band has ever recorded. Diverse genres from punk, to folk, to math rock congeal while Kline and other band members take turns telling the fictional narrative. Between the varying time signatures, jumpy lead guitar hooks and the repeating angular refrains, the song encapsulates everything good about the band’s new and improved sound.
Speaking of Kline, just because she isn’t the main attraction anymore doesn’t mean that she is no longer the star of the show. In fact, with less weight on her shoulders, Kline is able to shine even brighter within her fortes. “My Phone” finds Kline expounding something between a children’s nursery rhyme and an episode of “Black Mirror” — such is her astoundingly disarming wit. “Vessels” is filled with these moments. Whether she’s discussing the trees in her neighborhood, navigating a long-distance relationship or simply waking up in the morning and feeling out of place, Kline never ceases to inject a dose of curious mysticism and profundity in almost every line she utters.
But for every improvement on “Vessels,” one can’t help but wonder where the band stands today and where they can go next. Should we accept Frankie Cosmos as another preeminent and polished indie rock act and move on? The verdict is unclear, and maybe that’s why photographers have such a hard time dressing Kline. A grandma? I mean, c’mon now.