The songs never shirk away from presenting imperfection. They embrace it.
Greta Kline’s Bandcamp output, beginning in 2011, was more than prolific. It was indicative of a songwriter whose inspiration (mundane millennial life) was conveniently limitless. The resulting music is a cross section of anti-folk, bedroom pop and DIY music. But ever since the release of her debut album (as Frankie Cosmos), 2014’s Zentropy, DIY online releases have stopped, that constant creativity translating into albums with 15+ tracks (even if, all together, they don’t surpass 30 minutes). The thing is, a lot of those old Bandcamp releases averaged 10 tracks each. This causes a strange effect, with Kline – a writer who sounds like she’s figuring out what line comes next in every song – able to edit her output down to the essentials. Next Thing certainly was a collection of the best of the best. Vessel, Frankie Cosmos’ third studio album, makes the sonic leap of truly sounding like a full band rather than a bedroom outfit, but at 18 tracks, it threatens to all run together even while it perfectly mimics the sensation of scrolling through an extensive Bandcamp back catalog
While Vessel sees Frankie Cosmos play extensively with changing tempos (“Jesse,” “Being Alive”), the bulk of the album echoes with indie, punk-tinged guitars. When the arrangements themselves are pared down to Kline’s droll vocals and guitar and Luke Pyenson’s drums, it’s unfortunately easy to fall into some repetitive combinations. Luckily, Lauren Martin’s keyboards emerge occasionally to enrich the short tracks (“Duet,” “Bus Bus Train Train”). And Kline’s own guitar lines are bolstered by Alex Bailey’s slinky bass (“Apathy,” “Same Thing”). The DIY bedroom sheen may have been lifted by the production and band depth, but Frankie Cosmos still approaches songs with wry observations and frank, self-aware emotions.
Even though Kline has been limiting her output to label releases, her lyrics remain entrenched in millennial living, honest relationship woes and seemingly throwaway observations that belie their deeper understanding of modern life. The the very contradictions in the songs make Kline’s lyrics painfully realistic. Opener “Caramelize” begins with her declaring “I wanna make a man out of you,” only to resolve, “When the heart gets too tender/ Return it to the sender/ Be more centered.” She even refers to needing love as a “vice.” Throughout the album, this abrupt shift in mindset is frequently chocked up to apathy, but far from being indifferent, Kline experiences a lot in these songs and is unafraid to pit warring emotions against each other. On “Apathy” itself, Kline says she tired of her relationship before asking for a date, tempting with the line, “You could take me and my apathy/ Turn us into clarity.”
Since most of these 18 tracks barely exceed one minute, a pattern emerges where there are a few seemingly “complete” songs, regularly broken up by interludes. “As Often as I Can,” like many of the songs here, is a simplistic track backed by an unadorned guitar line. A track like “Ur Up” illustrates a familiar late night text exchange with few lyrics in a total of 36 seconds. The lullaby-ish “My Phone” is a 32-second ode to someone you can depend on and batteries that you can’t. While these offer cute intermission, they lack significant substance.
Despite the number of songs that veer more toward impressions than full tracks, Vessel features several excellent single-worthy songs, most of which are packed into the first half of the album. “Caramelize,” “Apathy” and “Jesse” launch the album with their juxtaposition of mellow verses and rollicking refrains, downtempo so easily morphing into upbeat indie rock. And somewhat subdued tracks like “I’m Fried” and “Being Alive” are fearlessly introspective and wickedly humorous at once – see the shift from “If I become a piece of dirt/ For a dollar can I enter your brain?” to the band members taking turns chanting “Being alive/ Matters quite a bit/ Even when you/ Feel like shit.”
While Vessel is by no means an ideal introduction to Frankie Cosmos, it is a welcome addition to Greta Kline’s endless catalog. It presents the banal just as it is, as well as highly romanticized. Above all, the songs never shirk away from presenting imperfection. They embrace it.