Sunday, April 24, 2016

Frankie Cosmos packs a world of wit and emotion in 28 minutes on "Next Thing"

Frankie Cosmos, the moniker of 22 year-old Greta Kline, interestingly tows the line between buzz genres of the recent past and present.  From her soft, childlike voice to her plucky junk-pop instrumentation, her sound resembles the kind of twee music that was popular with indie blogs in the mid-2000s.  But at the same time her personal, deeply emotional lyrics fit in perfectly with the 20-something singer-songwriter resurgence of the last few years.  It's a style she honed over her dozens of Bandcamp releases and fully realized on her 2014 gem, Zentropy.  But after an achievement like that at such a young age, she could've easily flamed out and failed to live up to her limitless potential.  Thankfully, her latest record Next Thing is as far from a disappointment as an album can possibly be.

It turns out that Fit Me In, the gauzy electronic EP she released last November, was just an experimental detour, because Next Thing gets back on the road paved by Zentropy.  It's another album of sharp, indie pop songs that bury genuine craft under the guise of simplicity.  And like her previous LP, this latest offering keeps things brief at 15 songs and 29 minutes.  Despite that short running time, Next Thing never seems like it's robbing the listener of material.  Kline doesn't feel the need to drag things out or repeat choruses, because everything lands with the appropriate weight the first time around.  These songs get in and out before you have a chance to get sick of them.  They even manage to shift and turn in their little 90-second spans.

But the real draw is Kline's lyrics, which manage to be breathtaking while working on a small scale.  Unlike some of her peers (like, say, Waxahatchee), she doesn't often rely on flowery language to get her point across.  Instead, her poetry is more plainspoken.  There's room for metaphor, but Kline's straightforward writing makes the particular banalities of which she speaks hit harder.  Next Thing frequently reads like a diary.  One page is her expressing happiness for her friends ("Embody"), then the next is her confronting dark thoughts and insecurities about a relationship ("Too Dark").  A few pages later she's exploring a different object of affection ("On the Lips").  These songs all sit beside one another and combine to form a compelling emotional portrait.  Everything feels so present tense too; they're songs ripped straight from her very own headlines.  I wouldn't be surprised if "Tour Good," a song about the moment-to-moment feelings of being on the road, was written while she was on tour.

All of this would be terribly navel-gazey were it not for two major factors.  First, the songs are so insistently catchy that the album could merely be enjoyed as a collection of charming pop songs.  From the sickly sweet swing of "On the Lips" to the bouncy chug of "If I Had a Dog," it's got indelible melodies to spare.  The second element that saves these songs from feeling self-indulgent is the sly sense of humor that Kline tucks just underneath all of her musings.  "I know I'm not a lake" she says, to joke about her lack of depth on the seemingly tossed off "Outside With the Cuties."  She starts off "I'm 20" with the line "I'm 20 / washed up already" and you can practically hear her winking.

The best albums have as much life in your head as they do in your ears.  In that case, Next Thing is going to go down as one of the best albums of 2016.  Albums that came out last week have already been erased from my mind, but ever since this one came out a month ago it's been rattling around up there.  Kline's songs feel like a whole universe.  She references her real friends, her dog, her brother -- you have to bring in your own knowledge to get the first names she drops.  But the feeling of intimacy is enough even if you don't do the extra credit.  You may not know who the Gaby or Owen she mentions in her songs are, but by the end of Next Thing, you feel like you know who Greta Kline is.

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