After playing a role in a few enticing indie rock bands over the last decade – she was an original member of both Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls – Frankie Rose set out to establish her own distinct sound apart from her various musical projects.
Her 2010 solo debut, Frankie Rose and the Outs, held onto the blurry guitar sounds of her past, but she quickly leaned wholeheartedly into the world of electronica. Following suit with Interstellar and Herein Wild, Cage Tropical is a nostalgic album planted firmly in the 1980s, complete with synth-driven beats and fuzzy vocal patterns.
Steeped in a fascination with the paranormal realm, the record is often motivated by an overwhelming science fiction presence. The synthesizer rhythms tend to contort until they feel like the eerie score for an alien flick. Tracks like “Dyson Sphere” and “Art Bell” seem to capture a supernatural doorway between worlds, navigating a sea of noise in which every piece fits together seamlessly. It would be perfectly fair to categorize the atmosphere of the album as “post-Stranger Things.” It’s always been clear that Frankie Rose has been influenced by post-punk and dream-pop, but now it’s become more apparent that she’s a fan of John Carpenter.
Although it is hidden behind a sheet of innuendo, this is a surprisingly vulnerable album. One of Cage Tropical’s prominent themes follows a complete loss of control. Songs like “Trouble” (“I tell myself that no one else can help me and I need esteem”) and “Decontrol” (“Wishing I could be, but you know you’ve got some power over me”) find a speaker who can no longer get a grasp on her own emotional autonomy. She’s been rendered utterly powerless. Still, Rose never loses heart. Power pop standard “Cage Tropical” reminds us that even in a tale of tragedy, there is optimism to be found within the shadows.
“Dancing Down the Hall,” a minimalist love letter to new wave, is a clear stand-out from the album. If this had been around in the mid-80s, John Hughes would have plucked it for soundtrack to one of his movies. Balancing off-kilter whispers with resonant, sustained synth chords, the song is the spiritual offspring of Depeche Mode and Cocteau Twins. It’s the sort of delightfully moody track that takes the weight of your own issues off your shoulders for a few minutes.
The rare song on the album that sees the inclusion of a guitar as a featured instrument, “Red Museum” strikes an original note, even as it displays a comfortable familiarity at every turn. It is the musical equivalent of pulling the curtains open and allowing the sunlight to fill the room. It is such a cozy pop tune, regardless of its gloomy message: “Everything you know’s a lie / And the love you have will die.”
Cage Tropical doesn’t break any new ground, but it is a pleasantly alluring addition to a body of work that is consistently engaging. A nonstop ethereal trance, the album stands amongst Frankie Rose’s most engrossing work, sure to charm existing fans and even win over some new ones. Its staying power remains to be seen, but this is the perfect flavor to draw the summer to a close. Cage Tropical is another solid effort from Rose, and it hints that we will soon get a truly spectacular record from her.