Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (SubPop)

NYC indie pop outfit return with impressive, lyrically rich new set

Released Mar 30th, 2018 via Sub Pop / By Emilie Kneifel
Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (SubPop) Frankie Cosmos’ Greta Kline has always sung with a proximity to the particular, a lucidity so up-close and detailed that she somehow unsticks, floating up and above. On Vessel, Kline’s first release after two years, her awareness cracks anew. Her melodies prickle with the sense that she’s “weird and wrong,” that maybe she just “wasn’t built for this world.” Her subtle paranoia is there from the very first track, sudden tempo changes mirroring her lyrics’ jolted, hammering heartbeats.

Because she’s at once so unsettlingly close to and so totally discrete from herself, Kline quickly identifies what gets in the way. Her body is a “burden,” enabling her silence, disclosing her tender, succumbing to her tired. Her need “to be held/ is a vice like anything else.” Other people are obstacles, too, their constant presence — as characters, ghostly You’s, and soundbites of laughter — exacerbating the album’s sickly claustrophobia, its low headache like the kind that sets in when you’re Hanged Out. “I’m so tired of myself around you,” she sings, humid with the nausea of idleness, the feeling of a day wasted.

Kline muses that everything might be less sticky, less too-much, if only she could be “part of the scenery” or “filled with apathy.” “A shadow/ in a shadow.” If she could just get away from herself, all these people, all this sound. But the album’s long tracklist, the unrelenting stagger of eighteen songs every shade of frenetic, makes one wonder if Kline is afraid of what any kind of silence might allow. What it would open. Where it would take her. Instead, in true fashion, Kline grounds herself in the details. In plain-stating the particulars, naming the nouns rather than the adjectives of the hurt, she captures dead dogs’, dead phones’, dead loves’ ability to devastate in such a specific way. How the mundane can ruin. How its objective insignificance makes it all the more heartbreaking.

The hardest track to hear, The End, is also the most candid — kept it in its demo version, Kline said in an interview, because it didn’t sound right with further prep. “It doesn’t mean it’s the end,” she insists halfheartedly, her throat catching. Strumming frantically. She claws at the finality with repeated We Tried’s, You Tried’s, I tried’s but finds only tears, only the Trying’s numbing futility. The Trying’s inexorable end. Its defeat.

“Nothing comes natural,” she decides. “Anything could be real or fake.” We imbue these things, these people, with divine significance that only after do we realize is arbitrary. Suddenly, nothing about an object has changed, but everything has. An ex-lover looks at you with the same eyes, eyes that are the same colour, anyway, but now reflect something silver, something guarded and wounded or something steely. Indifferent. Eyes that once caught yours, that were in on It, all of it, eyes whose gaze once held taut the other end of your world.

Despite their ostensibly artificial beginnings, though, these meanings are what we build up around. They are the worlds we build. “I gave you meaning but don’t know why,” Kline sings, then concedes, “only you can make me cry.” The power was always real. Is what remains. And that’s the cruelest part.

The album, like a potato, is riddled with eyes: Caramelize, blue eyes, “secret eyes.” Kline uses stark insight to situate herself; she looks around to try to understand. But she’s all too aware that observation is also the way others presume things about her — as a woman, an artist, a body. A Vessel. Looking, watching, but not seeing. “They don’t wanna see,” she sings on Caramelize. “Nobody sees me/ Nobody sees me/ Nobody sees me,” on Cafeteria. Or, if Caramelize/caramel eyes will allow me this stretch, we could also hear the second line as an identical-sounding imperative: “Nobody seize me.” Nobody capture me. Maybe nobody can, not even her.

Here’s the thing: I’m probably-definitely making too much of a single line. But doesn’t that still make the larger point true: that Kline’s own definability is as elusive as anything else’s? That anything, really, is up for grabs, because successfully Getting It is no guarantee? Kline feels her “tear ducts doing their thing;” she “tried to close my eyes/ but I still saw you cry;” she can’t help but spot the remains of that splintered love, that leftover meaning so imbued, everywhere: “in the car,” “in nature,” “in everything.” But Vessel isn’t a breakup album so much as it is a reconciliation with the self. Of where I am and where I stand, independent of it all. Who I am now, without you. “Walking alone ... I/ Leave no mark at all” — here, finally, on the title track, a moment of release, relief, of respite in anonymity, in the fact that, for once, her every step doesn’t shift some kind of balance. That she can just waft, just exist — then vanish “like fog.”

On Being Alive, each band member takes a turn carrying the chorus. With each new voice, they sing that buzzing claustrophobia into something cozier, something more like solidarity, fraternity, togetherness. Leaning onto. Friends congregating after a crisis, insisting with their lyrics and their held hands that despite this, despite the bad? despite the hurt, the heartbreak? despite the fact that no one may ever really figure you out? that this is worth it. It’s worth it. This, they can promise. Breathe in the melody. Nod along. You’ll see. “Walking alone ... I/ Leave no mark at all.” Her words point to something else, too: that maybe together the sum of their stomps stands a chance.