Monday, April 2, 2018

Review of Frankie Cosmos' "Vessel"

I posted this review a short while ago on the Sputnik Music website:

Review Summary: The tunes on this album gently carry you along, even if it's only for about a minute-and-a-half or so.

Frankie Cosmos is a band. It's also the alias of the band's lead singer/songwriter Greta Kline, the daughter of film actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. Their new album Vessel is being credited as their third studio album, although there seem to have been a few other indie releases that they're no longer counting. You can tell they're moving up in the world, because this is their first release on Sub Pop, their most prominent label to date, and because they're booked along with Perfume Genius to open for Belle and Sebastian at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium this summer. In spite of their band-on-the-rise status, though, soundwise, Vessel doesn't sound all that different from their previous release, 2016's Next Thing. However, that's not necessarily a bad thing, as that was also a pretty good LP.

I'm going to tell you up front, there are a few things that annoy me about this album. The main thing is that they seem so afraid to fully grasp their rising prominence as a band that at times, it feels like they're trying to hit you over the head with the notion that, "Hey, we're really not thatprofessional!" So for example, at the end of "This Stuff", one of the LP's most enjoyable songs, they end abruptly with an out-of-place-seeming synthesizer morsel, followed by the sound of Kline giggling. Or on another number, the brief "Ur Up", the track starts with a male voice coming from the sound booth followed by the band flubbing the first few notes and Kline once again nervously laughing. I'm probably getting crotchety in my old age. Things like this have been done by classic artists throughout the decades, from The Who's Pete Townshend bellowing "I saw ya!" at Keith Moon at the end of "Happy Jack", to Joni Mitchell's weird cackling at the end of "Big Yellow Taxi". But it irked me when Keshe did it on her album last year, and it irked me here, especially because in this case, it felt like maybe the band was just trying too hard to cling to their DIY cred by leaving this kind of thing on the recording.

The second thing that I had a hard time coming to grips with is more my problem than theirs. It's their song structures. There are 18 tracks on this album, which sounds like way too many, until you realize that the total running time is only 33:17 minutes. There are only two songs here longer than three minutes, the first track ("Carmelize") and the last one (the title track). Kline likes to work in snippets, and even then, many of her songs start out one way, totally deconstruct, and then come back together. Or not. She clearly has the talent to do a more traditional pop thing. She just doesn't want to. She's like a poet who works only in haiku. For me, as a listener, it sometimes gets a little frustrating. But that's more my problem than hers.

So having said all of this, why did I give the album three-and-half stars? Because in the end, I still really like it. It's eminently listenable. Kline's voice is high, and kind of wispy, but very pretty, and the music is really smooth. It's my understanding that for awhile, she was very active in the New York anti-folk scene, and I can hear that in her resistance to typical song structures. Her music, however, is much less aggressive than what I think about when I hear the word "anti-folk". The songs gently carry you along with them, even if it's only for a minute-and-a-half or so. And I love most of what the band is doing throughout, whether it's leisurely strumming guitars, dreamily playing a synthesizer, or quietly singing in the round as they do at the end of their "Being Alive" track.

All told, I respect what Greta Kline and Frankie Cosmos have done here, even when they frustrated my expectations. I'd just like to see them be a little more self confident, and a little less self-consciously "indie". Nevertheless, this is still one of my favorite albums so far of 2018.

Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars