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SPIN Essentials

Review: Frankie Cosmos Deserves to Be Your ‘Next Thing’

SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: April 01, 2016
Label: Bayonet Records

Twenty-two year-old Greta Kline writes affecting, unassuming songs about subjects like Korean food and how much she misses her dead dog, Joe Joe. Her delivery is that of a best friend who invites you over, pulls out their guitar, and says, “I just wrote a new one, would you like to hear it?” A Rookie of the Year from the Rookie Yearbook, Kline recalls the legible confessionals of Colleen Green or Kimya Dawson and the bright-eyed melancholy of Beat Happening or Cub, all while building from her greatest strength: being immediately and deliberately herself.

These days, the New York City-born daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates is better known as Frankie Cosmos. She picked up the guitar in middle school and eventually started posting songs online as “Ingrid Superstar” (a pseudonym inadvertently borrowed from an Andy Warhol associate). She switched to the Frank O’Hara-inspired “Frankie Cosmos” in 2011, when she began making music with (and dating) Aaron Maine of Porches. Kline’s bedroom project turned out to be something a lot of other people wanted to listen to in their bedrooms, too.

The earliest Frankie releases are still floating around online, though you won’t find them on your streaming service of choice. Recorded before Kline had any backing band, those songs are as stripped-down as they come. Her voice is a thread sometimes barely audible over inexpert solo guitar, a hand-clapped rhythm, a stray car horn in the background. Unpretension remains integral to Frankie Cosmos’ appeal, but true to its title, her second proper album, Next Thing, marks several steps forward. For one thing, there’s a band: vocalist and keyboardist Gabby Smith (of Eskimeaux), bassist David Maine (Aaron’s brother), and drummer Luke Pension. The group gives Kline’s ideas depth without ever bogging her down. Smith’s keyboard playing replaces the bizarre synth flourishes on 2015 mini-EP Fit Me In with an understated sound that mirrors the warm, delicate quality of Kline’s voice.

Kline’s songwriting is more nuanced, too. Lines like “Your name is a triangle / Your heart is a square” from “Fool” express something elemental that might take paragraphs to explain the conventional way. Sometimes her words land with the earnestness of a Girl Scout singalong (“You change, I change, hooray” on “Tour Good”); elsewhere they come loaded with the full weight of young-adult insecurities (“When I know I’m not the best girl in the room / I tell myself I’m the best you can do” on “Too Dark”). Innocence and anxiety don’t define the Frankie Cosmos Brand® just because they’re integral to who she is today; over-romanticize either and wind up bitter when her next album contains less of both.

Nowhere is this growth narrative more heartbreaking than on “Is It Possible / Sleep Song,” a two-and-a-half-minute two-parter that culminates with the realization of emotional abuse: “I guess I just make myself the victim like you said / That’s why when you treat me s**tty you get mad / It all makes sense now, thanks so much / Goodbye forever, what the f**k.” Kline draws that “f**k” out, and out, and out. It’s as disappointed as it is damning. Thrown, you rewind to part one, reevaluating: Where were the signs? They were there; you missed them the first time. If there is any justice in the world, this song will end relationships.

Frankie doesn’t get the luxury of making this album twice. Whether or not she’s aware of it yet, the establishment has a short attention span for a successful young woman in a genre graded on the rubric of cuteness. Well into his 40s, Rivers Cuomo still gets the cosign from the critical establishment to act like an insecure teenager in public; Kline is unlikely to receive the same at his age. But she can’t help talent any more than she can stop growing up. If Next Thing sounds like lightning in a bottle now, remember that eventually we’ll have to read it as the end of a beginning. “I’m 20 / Washed up already,” Kline jokes on “I’m 20,” an opening line straight out of the Mac DeMarco self-help book. She can be washed up if she wants, but having accomplished this album and plenty of memorable music before it, she could probably do anything else she wants too.