Cage Tropical presents an uninhibited Frankie Rose, letting loose and crafting music organically and unabashedly.
After years as a drummer for bands like Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls, Vivian Girls and Beverly, Frankie Rose opted to venture into solo albums. From Frankie Rose and the Outs to 2013’s Herein Wild, her sound has been awash with ethereal vocals and dreampop influences. Her fourth album Cage Tropical is no different, this time harnessing trippy space-agey synths and drum machine dance beats. Whereas Herein Wild featured much more guitar, this latest effort is wall-to-wall beguiling synth lines, making for a heady listening experience. And although Rose has in the past built her songs around true dance beats, this is a chill version of Interstellar, with the beats on Cage Tropical instead operating in the mode of ’80s lush synthpop. The shift away from guitar lines toward this style only serves to complement Rose’s solemn voice and allow for some indulgent experimentation.
Rose boasts a voice that hedges its ethereal sound on the extent her synth experimentation. For the bulk of Cage Tropical, her arrangements harness the new age sound of ’80s pop, and her vocals are sleek and refined to match the lush hooks and harmony on tracks like “Love in Rockets” and “Game to Play.” The likes of finale track “Decontrol,” however, see Rose match the eccentricity of her composition – blending tribalesque percussion and starry synths – with a heavily distorted, jittery vocal recording. But it’s interesting to hear where Rose decides to recall such nostalgic sonic callbacks as the dramatic keys on “Love in Rockets” that scream ’80s romantic ballad versus where she chooses to throw caution to the wind and offer up something as dynamic as the disjointed, jittery effects on “Trouble.”
Sonic variety aside, Cage Tropical is thematically consistent. The album title itself conjures images of paradise slightly altered. That “cage” looms, threatening obstacles to true relaxation. And these 10 songs see Rose grapple with self-doubt and redemption, and the realization that all you have is yourself ultimately being a truly empowering motivator. Opener “Love in Rockets” sees Rose “resting my head like a wilting flower…in my ivory tower,” while she’s stuck in a self-destructive cycle: “a wheel, a wheel of wasting my life: a wheel, a wheel of wasting my time.” “Sometimes I wanna wanna wanna run away/ I tell myself that no one else can help me,” goes “Trouble” before Rose speaks the sad truth that “trouble follows you (you can run) no matter where.” The trippy looped vocals on the latter track gives the illusion of all of Rose’s past mistakes warning her at once not to follow the same foolish logic.
Cage Tropical doesn’t represent a sonic departure for Frankie Rose. Rather, it bridges the gap between Interstellar and Herein Wild while amping up the ethereal, lush production. It’s the best of old ideas merging with new musical inclinations. “Epic Slack,” for instance, is a purely indulgent experimental track, losing all pretense of melodic synthpop in favor of distorted guitar-driven instrumentals. And, even though there are plenty of beautiful synthpop dance tracks here, there’s still room for something like “Dancing Down the Hall” with its brassy swells that morph into dissonant white noise before being gently carried into a Lynchian smooth jazz inflected ballad accented by a meandering bassline. More than anything, Cage Tropical presents an uninhibited Frankie Rose, letting loose and crafting music organically and unabashedly.