by Preston Radtke
Frankie Cosmos has quickly become more than just a forlorn, artsy, indie minstrel. The time of chalking Greta Kline and Co. up as “just another bedroom act” faded right before Zentropy, the outfit’s first proper studio release. Tracks like “Owen” and “School” found the band fusing catchy, DIY instrumentals with poetic, heartfelt lyrics dealing with realistic and visceral topics. Next Thing, the more critically lauded 2016 studio release, was slightly more experimental than Zentropy, delving into more unconventional song structures. Meanwhile, Greta Kline’s “every kid” persona remained, fortified through anthems like “Sappho” and “Too Dark.”
In the following two years, the band remarked on a nationwide tour, played Pitchfork Music Festival, and lead singer Greta Kline was featured on What I Want, the short-lived Brooklyn garage rock band who released their sole album last year. But the band’s crowning achievement of the year happened when they signed with legendary indie label Sub Pop. It was a hint that the band was near their arrival into the indie mainstream for good.
2018’s Vessel is everything that Frankie Cosmos is and should be: emotive themes, poetic lyrics, and self-deprecating humor. As was the case with Next Thing and Zentropy, Frankie Cosmos has marvelously captured the essence of a movement and even a generation. Kline and friends shoved away any hints at complacency with the tighter and more complex instrumentals and song structures. It seems the complexity of the band’s instrumentation is ever-changing in line with the people playing them.
The Luke Pyenson show
Frankie Cosmos are masters of tempo. Instead of disregarding percussion and rhythm as something for Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem, the band effectively uses tempo to help exhilarate and synthesize different moods and colors of tracks.
On Vessel, the talents of Luke Pyenson manifest themselves beyond the assumed capabilities of the average, bedroom pop drummer. Take “Feeling Alive”, a stop-and-go exploration of obsessive love and self-doubt. The song flits between slow, groovy anti-choruses, and frantic, nearly punkish lyrical attacks by Kline. In both instances Pyenson’s drumming sets the speed and further emphasizes “Feeling Alive”’s emotion and meaning. Then there’s “Jesse:” the first single off the record, and perhaps the most instrumentally dense. At around the one-and-a-half minute mark, Pyenson employs an unbalanced drum section that becomes the most obvious and omnipresent instrumental on the track, a track that featured two electric guitars, a bass guitar, and a keyboard. On “Jesse” Pyenson’s drumming seemed to represent the nervous heartbeat and conscience of a protagonist dealing with the melancholy morphing of a once-faithful friend.
Album opener “Caramelize” features a driving, almost pop-punk guitar section by Kline. On this track, this innovative guitar chorus adds needed grit and struggle to the song, which focuses on the inconsistencies of self-esteem.
The sadly brief “Ur Up” contains the only instance of instrumental shortcoming on this record. The 35-second track seems to depict Kline messing around on a piano with some nonsensical vocals. The critique here is that the album could have had more piano, as Kline’s delicate voice pairs perfectly with the robust, yet flexible nature of the instrument. Hopefully in the future the quartet could revisit an upright.
An album for you and me
Frankie Cosmos crafts songs so thoroughly that the characters they sing about could easily be your best friends. Zentropy’s “Buses Splash With Rain” was an introspective analysis of just why the protagonist is clumsy and “not with it.” “Sinister” from Next Thing found its protagonist stepping back and acknowledging their rude and unruly behavior, a sentiment that every self-aware collegian feels whether they end up admitting it or not.
These relevant themes remain on Vessel. “The End” is maybe the saddest, rawest track on the album, dealing with the immediate plight of living with someone who doesn’t love you anymore and the logistical and emotional problems associated. While Vessel is certainly instrumentally progressive, “The End” is a throwback to the Bandcamp days. The song features an undynamic acoustic guitar beneath Kline’s mournful vocals, a recipe perfected extensively on their massive Bandcamp catalog.
Much like synthpop standout artist Poppy, Frankie Cosmos explores the perils and conquests of digital relationships. The aptly named “My Phone” finds the band providing proverbial pros-and-cons of hosting many friendships and relationships on a screen. The idea of touring and maintaining long-distance relationships is an old trope for the band, and it is even further extrapolated on “My Phone.”
Then there’s “Accommodate”, the most personal and relevant track for lead singer Greta Kline. “Accommodate” is Kline’s documentation of her struggle with personal upkeep. Though the song sounds upbeat and innocent, its theme of physical and emotional personal neglect make it feel all the more real. The instrumental and lyrical patterns seem to depict an external view of a person, while the vocals detail the true nature of struggle and negative self-care.
For the first time, Frankie Cosmos feels like a band
Frankie Cosmos’ previous releases, though massively catchy and admirable, all felt like solo efforts of songstress Greta Kline. Aside from the odd Aaron Maine feature, all songs were performed by Kline, and none of the backing instrumentation was so present or solidified as to take away attention from her. On this release, bandmates Alex Bailey, Lauren Martin, and Luke Pyenson seem to have succeeded in having some sort of peaceful mutiny. Now each one of them have carved out specific, instantly identifiable sections within the album.
For “Ballad of R & J,” both Bailey and Martin take turns singing the chorus and bridge, shedding light on both of their hereby unknown vocal styles. Additionally, both get solos near the conclusion of “Feeling Alive.” For a band fronted by the angelic-sounding Greta Kline, it’s impressive that the duo has just stood idly by despite the fact that they too have very beautiful and textured voices. “Feeling Alive” was Bailey’s coming-out party, her groovy bass lines help set the stage for the downtrodden, more depressed part of the song, ever differentiating it, and making the frantic sprint all the more effective.
Pyenson’s drumming has certainly received its due share of praise, so instead it’s his singing that needs to be commented on. On “Feeling Alive,” Pyenson crawls to the mic, providing the closing line of the track that’s the finality of the song’s ethos. As stated above, the song deals with the highs and lows of obsessive love. Pyenson’s unprofessional, yet realistic, vocal section seems to represent the prevailing and long-lasting feeling of the confused protagonist.
“Bus Bus Train Train”
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Featured image from Genius
The only alarming thing to come out of 'Vessel' is the realization of just what the band could do next within their genre. Instrumentally, the record is an indie pop masterpiece, a gorgeous fusion of sonic innovation and contextual efficiency. As one of the most personality-driven acts around, Frankie Cosmos had a tall order replicating the mood and temperament of past releases. Fortunately they evolved yet again, throwing more complex, but still realistic subjects onto the audience. Finally, the emerging talent of Bailey, Martin, and Pyenson takes center stage, an emergence that simply states that future Frankie Cosmos conquests may further employ the capabilities of these underrated musicians.
Preston is a Emerging Media and Design major. His favorite things include: Seinfeld, The band Sleater-Kinney, Denim jackets, and traveling. When I’m not writing for Byte, he’s working on his thesis dealing with Transmedia in music marketing, working on his very amateur novel, and spending way too much money on restaurants.