The career trajectory of Frankie Cosmos isn’t one that’s easy to define. With hundreds of short, peppy indie pop tracks, prolific Bandcamp success story Greta Kline quickly gained notoriety with her cherubic harmonies and minimalist sketchpad renderings of youthful clumsiness. While the flowery, upbeat melodies of Frankie Cosmos have always possessed a level of endearing appeal, the shift to Sub Pop appears to have provided the outfit with much needed structure and focus, allowing Kline to further hone her craft.
On Vessel, the third proper Frankie Cosmos LP, Kline leads with a confident grace and maturity, in her impressionistic lyrics as well as her rich technical stylings. While even her strongest previous efforts too often felt like unfinished demos, these tracks boast a newfound sense of completeness. Here, the transition to a full band, rather than solo home recordings, has been solidified. The album skillfully fills in sonic gaps with precise instrumentation, such as on songs like the head-bobbing lead single “Jesse.”
Kline also proves she isn’t afraid to add texture through creative risks, as with the surprisingly dynamic “Duet,” Kline’s most impressive work to date, ebbing and flowing with passionate urgency. Perhaps her chief asset is knowing exactly how long to linger on any given idea, whether it be under a minute (“My Phone,” “Hereby”) or significantly longer (“Caramelize,” “Vessel”). The songs maintain a trademark rawness, but they are coated with a sheen of artistic growth.
That’s not to say that Kline has outgrown her focus on the struggles that so often come with youth. As we see on songs like “Apathy” and “As Often as I Can,” the awkwardness of vulnerability is still openly prevalent within her songwriting. There’s even a sense of childlike innocence to be found within these verses, as one might expect with titles like “Bus Bus Train Train” (here, a reimagining of a classic Frankie Cosmos track). Kline is still in her early twenties, and she never assumes a position of superiority. Instead, she takes deceptively cheery moments like “Cafeteria” and “The End” to address her own deep-seated insecurities. Caught somewhere between bleak and quirky, her outlook on life is spelled out in her lyrics: “I wasn’t built for this world / I had sex once, now I’m dead.”
Much of Kline’s charm stems directly from her disregard for taking herself too seriously. Her idiosyncratic sense of humor percolates throughout Vessel. Even on such a sleek, polished record, she takes time to include “Ur Up,” an unvarnished demo that begins with a whimsical fumble. Although she consistently tackles grim themes, she does so while also embracing her tender, goofball sensibilities. At the root of everything, Greta Kline is still the shy, anxious kid who felt the need to hide behind a pseudonym and has difficulty showcasing her work to an audience without at least the trace of a smirk behind it.
Groovy and aesthetically diverse, yet bound by a tangible thesis, there’s a symmetry to Vessel, a record book-ended by its longest tracks. Using a refined softness to combat the harsh realities around her, Greta Kline can’t help but radiate hope, even in her melancholy. With the album, Frankie Cosmos smooths over the rough edges without losing the DIY sound that proved to be so abundantly human on those Bandcamp recordings. These allusive doodles probe for a deeper truth, all while rooted in delicate positivity.