VESSEL by Frankie Cosmos
Genre: Indie Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Apathy,” “This Stuff,” “Jesse,” “Duet,” “Accommodate,” “Ballad of R & J,” “Being Alive,” “My Phone,” “Cafeteria,” “Vessel”
The intimacy of a Frankie Cosmos song makes it hard to believe Greta Kline’s been living a life outside the safety of a bedroom. At the center of her four-piece band, Kline’s voice susurrates like consciousness during a midday nap, at once sweet as a lullaby and anxious as the first day of school, immortalized in a diary-like scrapbook. But the hazy confines of a bedroom can’t contain the archive of memories and experiences that float in that busy brain of Kline’s. Amongst a generous discography released independently on Bandcamp, VESSEL is her third full studio album and first LP with Sub Pop Records. But, while Frankie Cosmos’ cozy, bashfully poetic style remains unchanged, a window has opened, the door cracked, letting in the light of the band’s most realized, graceful work to date.
Without compromising Kline’s knack for delicate wit and unassuming pop melodies, the production of VESSEL puts much-needed meat on the project’s bones. Frankie Cosmos’ sound has been made fuller with summery guitar lines, tight drumming, surprising tempo changes, and the most adventurous vocal melodies we’ve heard thus far from Kline—all this with the polish of a studio recording. Longtime fans might miss the fuzzy, homemade-tape aesthetic of Frankie Cosmos past, but the maturation in sound is by no means a departure from the charms that make Kline’s work so endearing. Tender studio mess-ups (“Ur Up”) and anecdotes about her dead dog, JoJo (“Bus Bus Train Train”), only serve to reaffirm Kline’s earnest humanness by never taking things too seriously.
Comparatively, it would be remiss to categorize VESSEL as merely twee—Kline sings with the prose of a 24-year-old rubbing the dust out of her nascent wrinkles. At 33 minutes in length, there is a deep sense of existential exhaustion inserted between these 18 tracks, whether in the sighing quality of Kline’s wistful vocal timbre, or lyrics with enough innocent modesty to ask just what her place might be in the world. But a long life would need a longer album, and Kline’s advantage lies in youthfulness, where words of wisdom need only the brevity of a couplet to make sense (“Being alive matters quite a bit / Even when you feel like shit”). She may feel like every day is a battle between the world and the frailty of a human body, but better to be “soft like the ocean” (“Caramelize”) than hardened and unfeeling (“Ballad of R & J”).
Despite the band’s hallmark, dancey sensibilities on this record, there is a feeling underscoring VESSEL that cannot be shaken—this is a break-up album, and though not always explicitly, Kline has captured not the pain of losing a partner so much as the internal shudder that characterizes coming back into one’s own self. Much of Frankie Cosmos’ previous work focused itself on scraps and morsels of images and memories, but VESSEL stands out as a magnifying glass on Kline’s self-reconciliation. Even admitting the small things, like, “Oh, you know I’m fried” (“I’m Fried”) or, “I never felt like the one” (“Cafeteria”), make you cheer her on in the process of reflective healing, whether shimmying with the floating melody line of “Accommodate,” banging with the frenetic delirium of “Being Alive”’s tempo changes, or swaying with the wide-eyed, lovesick “Duet.” Kline, above all else, wants to feel whole.
Early on, there is a lyric in the acoustic ballad “This Stuff” where Kline coos, “Not all trees have fruits or flowers / Some are just there to grow.” It’s this very uncomplicated humility that makes VESSEL more than just the quiet droll of Frankie Cosmos’ archetype—it is an ode to finding a home within her own skin. Sometimes over and over again, without frills or fireworks, but with baby steps like drawing boundaries or letting herself cry. VESSEL isn’t particularly any more significant than her others, especially in the grand scheme of the indie pop canon, but nevertheless it exercises, for Kline, a marked personal growth that is altogether wholesome, unpretentious, and delicately mortal.