words by kezia cochrane
photo by angel ceballos
Listening to Frankie Cosmos has always been a charmingly frank journal-like journey through the world of Greta Kline. The prolific artist at the helm of the band momentously documents minute details, evocations of memories that convey episodes of her existence with a vivid intricacy, resulting in songs that rarely last more than a few minutes. With a staggering fifty-two releases under her belt (if you haven’t already, you should definitely carve out some time to immerse yourself in Kline’s extensive Bandcamp discography) Vessel, released on March 30th, is the third studio album from the four-piece and sees their aptitude for crafting sincerely heartfelt yet buoyant indie-pop grooves imbued with rich, new sonic subtleties.
Bearing the familiar earnest, emotional expression and quotidian observations there’s a sense of greater assurance to Kline’s voice and vulnerability on Vessel. As we grow and evolve we hopefully learn to further accept ourselves with less judgement, so Kline, who has documented personal evolutions through her extensive musical output over the past six years, expresses and embraces a greater sense of acceptance and clarity in her uncertainties and insecurities. The dulcet, drawn-out opening notes of “Caramelize” linger and meld with gentle strums while the sweetness of the melody juxtaposes the melancholic lyricism.
Depicting, with a poignant simplicity, the simultaneity of light and dark that comprises existence, the track purveys delicate harmonies before the driving bass and drums kick in adding an undercurrent of urgency to the tenderness and yearning the vocals convey. “Being Alive” stands out as a characteristically Frankie Cosmos burst of bittersweet vitality, offering a kind of mantra, an encouragement to always keep going “even when you feel like shit”, oscillating between rapid, rattling rhythms and swooning, hazy refrains with a compelling dynamism.
Spanning a somewhat extensive 18 tracks, the record sees the band’s more collaborative approach to the songwriting. The formation of these songs expose in a certain depth and textural detail to the sonic layers of Kline’s autobiographical extracts. With a particular exploration of personal growth and affirmation, and musing on love and relationships, each song offers a wealth of reassurance in the way Kline so perfectly captures snapshots of the dense perplexity of existence, expressing these anecdotes with a profoundly nuanced perspective.
At times there’s an almost childlike nature to the uninhibited candour with which Kline captures memories, such as “Bus Bus Train Train”, while “Duet” is a glisteningly beautiful love song embellished with woozy distortions. “Apathy” conveys internalised anxieties with a sense of despondency and distant yearning but does so with sprightly riffs and upbeat percussive glimmers, epitomising this dichotomy the band purvey with compelling resolve throughout Vessel.
There’s a line on “Accommodate”, where Kline sings “my body is a burden, I’m always yearning to be less accommodating”. As I constantly try to navigate space and accept my corporeality in a world where there’s so often this pressure for females to be accommodating, these lyrics resonate strongly. “It’s just something I realised, I just keep on realising it about myself”, Kline says when I ask her about this song. “I keep on saying this, and for years I keep on being like this is the year when I start saying no when I mean no and really like being assured and being assertive in what I need and it’s just so hard for some reason. It’s just something about how you’re kind of trained as a woman in the world to just not put your own needs at the forefront of what’s important. So it’s interesting. But I’m really trying, I really try as often as I can to do it, to try and be real with myself and be like okay I can ask for what’s important.”
In the way that Kline’s music invites us into intimate monologues and engages us, as listeners, in direct dialogues with a distinctive amiability, she also exudes this kind of calming, genuine warmth when we speak over the phone. “I think in the last couple of years I’ve gotten a lot better at having conversations with myself – and music is a place that I do that, so it’s super vulnerable,” she adds. “I feel like I’ve grown to accept [that] this is not a complete statement, or this is not something I fully understand, or I’m asking a question and the answer can change from day to day – I don’t have one answer. I feel like there’s a lot of stuff on the album that is very back and forth between light and dark, like I’m asking these questions and the answer keeps changing sometimes within the same song. I feel like that’s something that I’ve just gotten a little bit more okay with over time. Just being like ‘this is something that’s not going to be able to be explained in a nutshell and that’s why I have to make the song’.”
This necessity to create music in order to try and make sense of things is conveyed through this diary-like quality to Kline’s songs that depict moments and memories illustrated through recollections of a certain pet or a particular conversation or party, distinct and personal in description yet universal in the way that Kline evokes relatable feelings through her anecdotes. “I just feel amazed when I see old stuff. I’m just like wow I can’t believe that’s the same person that I am now,” she explains. “But sometimes I’m like ‘I remember that exact feeling’ and it’ll bring me right back to that point; like a diary.”
Known for being concise, the songs present themselves as snippets of Kline’s constantly growing narrative. “I definitely have a short attention span,” Kline says, laughing. “People always ask me ‘why are your songs so short’, and that’s as long as I can handle attention to a song. All my favourite songs are really short.”
In terms of production and recording, processes have certainly shifted from the DIY bedroom-pop setup of earlier Frankie Cosmos releases, yet the DIY spirit is still ardently alive and tangible on Vessel. The band worked with reel-to-reel tape when recording, rather than digital, allowing for a much more organic sound. “I like it to feel super true to reality. I like that we always record in this very spontaneous way and everything ends up feeling like the way it feels when we play live. I see all the recording as an archive of a moment in time,” Kline explains. “So for me it’s like this is a recording of what the band sounded like in this period of time. I’m kind of a messy musician, and a messy person, so it just comes out that way.”
On Vessel, and throughout previous releases, Kline voices a sense of feeling out of place, and, on the new record, “Cafeteria” and “This Stuff” convey this sentiment with a pertinent candour. “It’s hard to tell if people have that feeling because when you feel it, it feels so much like I must be the only person that feels this way,” she explains. Yet through conveying her own experiences of this Kline instantly offers solace for this through her music, and as we both acknowledge the universality of this feeling of not fitting in, it seems kind of mutually reassuring.
“You know, I feel like for me a lot of the reason I’m writing songs is I’m trying to – I don’t know what the reason is exactly – but I’m trying to complete myself. I’m trying to achieve something from within myself. I often feel like I’m out of place or I’m not complete and I wonder if everyone feels that way and I’m trying to express it in some way; how do I be a person?” Kline says, raising that perpetual and eternal question. “The world is just crazy,” she adds, “like I was really flipping out today, I had this thought: What if we’re just in the matrix? It really starts to wear on me. It really starts to freak me out. But yeah, I think everybody feels it at some point, and the thing that I love is having friends who seem really at home in themselves, and in the world, and then to be able to talk to them and know they feel the same way. I know that it’s bad to want your friends to suffer the same way as you but it’s also so calming to just know it’s something that everybody’s feeling and nobody really feels like ‘I know who I am 100% all the time and I’m meant to be here’.”
Discussing the balance between light and dark, and with this, ultimately an expression of the entirety of existence that her music proffers with anecdotal accuracy, Kline continues. “I feel like it’s not necessarily a purposeful thing, but you know when you’re talking to a friend, and you have to go to work and you’re sad, and you have to put on a ‘I’m facing the world, this is my new exterior that I’m just going to put on’. Or for me, I’m someone who, when I’m suffering I’ll laugh. I have this really distinct memory of the one time I was beaten up, in middle school, and I was laughing because I didn’t understand I was scared. The principle came out of her office but didn’t realise because I was laughing; she thought we were just playing. So I feel like that comes out in my songs where if I’m writing about something sad I try and use humour, or try and make it sound like a happy song if it’s a sad song. There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance.”
As someone who gets easily distracted and absorbed by tiny, visual details in day to day meanderings, often filtered through a certain introspection, there’s a particular quality encompassed in the visual and emotional introversions and intricacies of Kline’s music that have always appealed to me and offered a certain solace. Asking whether perhaps this factors in her daily experiences she says: “I go through phases of having that. Like right now I’m in a phase of that, where I’m just taking pictures of twigs on the ground and fixating on everything I could possibly notice just because it’s interesting. I think the reason that I’m doing that is because I’m leaving New York in two weeks and so I’m just trying to take it all in, and really appreciate being outside here. I think I’ve always kind of been interested in archiving moments; small moments that maybe don’t feel momentous at the time but you’re going to want to remember later.
“I think that’s part of why I make art and music. It’s just to try and hold onto those still, quiet moments that you wouldn’t necessarily think are going to be a memory; to try and turn them into a memory.”
As the landscapes of her music are permeated with just such moments in plentiful abound, I can’t help but feel fortunate that Kline grants us insight into her world; long may the Frankie Cosmos chronicle continue.
Vessel is released on March 30th, via Sub Pop
You can pre-order it here