Sub Pop · March 30, 2018
Greta Kline is the undisputed queen of modern DIY. Vessel is the follow-up to her fantastic 2016 album Next Thing, which solidified Frankie Cosmos’ position among indie gods like Car Seat Headrest and Alex G, having made the transition from lo-fi, Bandcamp solo-artists to full-band mainstream acts. Sadly though, Vessel doesn’t quite live up to Frankie Cosmos’ potential. It’s full of underdeveloped songs and unfinished melodies inexcusable as simply Kline’s style, but there are moments of lyrical genius that make the album profound and uplifting.
Originally going by ingrid superstar in her early Bandcamp days, Greta Kline has gone through many names before finally settling on Frankie Cosmos. This is important because Vessel marks her fifty-second release in the last nine years. Yes, you read that right, fifty-second release, and through all those releases, Greta has matured and changed quite a bit. This is particularly evident in her songwriting, which combines a DIY-punk ethic with twee pop more endearing than the likes of Belle and Sebastian. Only two songs on Vessel top three minutes, which seems like an eternity compared to tracks that seem little more than jingles like ‘Ur Up.’ When you’re writing such short songs though, it makes each word count even more, and Greta rarely disappoints. There’s a subtle and simple perfection to lyrics like “Sometimes I am weird and wrong,” and “I had sex once now I’m dead.” Frankie Cosmos’ lyrics have always been so poignantly poetic, with an emphasis on crafting specific lines that stick with you rather than bombastic choruses, and this is what Vessel does so well. It’s entirely fitting that Frankie Cosmos is named after poet Frank O’Hara, because the tracks so often feel more like poetry put to music than songs.
This is simultaneously a compliment to Kline and a detriment to the music, however. There is a noticeable lack of interesting instrumentals on Vessel, and with Frankie Cosmos clearly introducing a larger, full-band sound, some of the DIY charm of Kline’s earlier work is lost. The one exception comes on the single ‘Being Alive,’ the most rock song the group has ever released, as its sporadic tempo changes and breakneck drum solo make it so infectious. The group also takes another chance by having each member sing the chorus instead of just Greta. It’s a really beautiful moment that so well emphasizes the song’s idealization of friendship and togetherness.
The larger theme of the album revolves around introspection and looking within your body as simply a Vessel. “Is your body a part of who you are or does it contain all of who you are? Does it stop you from fully being yourself?” asked Kline in an interview with Pitchfork, encapsulating the early-20s-lack-of-direction that the album represents. This makes Frankie Cosmos seem less like the musings of a heartbroken teen and more like those of a heartbroken adult. While ‘Accommodate’ and ‘Vessel’ deal with this topic directly, its importance is lost in an album that fails to focus in closely on what should be its main purpose. Kline takes too many detours to fully develop the idea of Vessel, but also doesn’t provide enough space for other topics to shine. Each song, and the album as a whole, is too short and too broad in scope.
The real issue with Vessel is that it loses a lot of what made Frankie Cosmos so endearing yet profound on tracks like ‘Sapho’ from Next Thing. Greta Kline’s unique voice and sound are almost lost in an album that feels all too generic. No amount of lyrical excellence can save an album doomed to be boring from its lack of catchy or inventive instrumentals. Gems like ‘This Stuff,’ ‘Accommodate,’ and ‘Being Alive’ are lost in a wave of underdeveloped jingles and songs that just fall short of sticking with you. But as a whole, Vessel certainly offers some words and wisdom that makes it worthy of a listen.