Frankie Cosmos has been holding back. An icon of bedroom rock, their 2016 album Next Thing released to critical acclaim and made several year-end lists. Led by Greta Kline, their newest album explores not only new sounds, but also relationships, internal struggles, and existential dread — all while still making your hips sway. On Vessel, Kline comes into her own as a songwriter and bandleader, the arrangements organized as perfectly as her thoughts, all spread out over the album like a neatly arranged room.
Vessel was ambitious from the start, exactly twice the length of their debut LP Zentropy, which shows when looking at the extensive tracklisting. There are 18 songs in total, ranging from 30 seconds and topping at no more than 3 and a half minutes. “Caramelize” opens, a wonderful sort of overture, showing the vast range of Frankie Cosmos’ sound, which stretches and breathes throughout, while adding in some moments where they sound darker than they ever have before (keep in mind, that’s still not too dark).
“Apathy” is the second single released off the album, and shows off Kline’s train-of-thought lyrics which intersect perfectly with the fuzzy guitars and punk rock structure of the song. On “Jesse,” the arrangement of the instruments gives the impression of a bigger band but maintains the stripped-down sound FC is known for.
I have to admit, “Being Alive” made me laugh the first time I heard it, beginning with Kline’s hushed “seveneightninerestbeING ALIVE” which quickly faded into all too real thoughts of depression and heartache, the sentiment shared over several voices, suggesting a unity in the idea that “being alive, matters quite a bit, even when you feel like shit.” “Cafeteria” expresses thoughts of self-doubt about one’s sexuality, somewhere between fear and anxiety put on by society’s pressures. “I will never be touched” sings Kline, “never get fucked, and I wonder what makes me so wrong?”
The album is flecked with quick little melodies that express an idea then are gone, like on “Ur Up” where the narrator is checking in on a friend, or possibly a former lover, to express their worry and anxiety about their relationship. “As Often As I Can” is a quick, easy love song, that still utilizes the full band backing Kline with magnificent synchronicity. “My Phone” is like a modern day lullaby, one of security that exists for a glimpse in a dream-like state.
Throughout Vessel, FC switches between bittersweet sentiments like those on “Duet” (“I like you, but I don’t know what for”) and darker thoughts like those on “Jesse” (“I’d like to be a shadow in a shadow, more deeply invisible than invisible”) but both are handled with grace between sharp changes in mood and texture. It’s emblematic of several minds working together to produce a single track, all coming together to mix, and rather than compromise, Frankie Cosmos fits them together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
I would also like to point out how Kline treats her vocals. It’s soft and sweet, but when placed at the forefront like it is on Vessel, it pierces like an arrow. It’s perfectly suited for the lovesick narrator, but also deceptively strikes with pinpoint accuracy when handling the subtler tones of maturity and existentialism of Vessel.
Vessel is Frankie Cosmos’ most mature album yet, both in lyricism, and in the wonderful use of the full band to expand their sound. It feels like they pulled out all the stops and pulled no punches. The result is incredibly charming and heartbreakingly sincere. I would call it their magnum opus if that weren’t far too pessimistic about what is to come. Frankie Cosmos is on their way up from here.
Vessel is out on Sub Pop on March 30th, 2018, and streaming on Stereogum now.