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Growing up is complicated on Frankie Cosmos’ ‘Close It Quietly’

music review

On “Close It Quietly,” Greta Kline’s fourth studio album that was released last Friday, Frankie Cosmos is a full-fledged band.
On “Close It Quietly,” Greta Kline’s fourth studio album that was released last Friday, Frankie Cosmos is a full-fledged band.

A quick scan of Greta Kline’s album-packed Bandcamp page reveals something curious: she can’t seem to settle on a name. Over the course of a few years and a few dozen albums, she goes from “ingrid superstar” to “ingrid” to “zebu fur” to “frankie cosmos.” And those are just the big ones — at times she’s also “greta,” “GRETA,” “the ingrates,” “Frankie Cosmos and the Emptiness” and “frankie cosmos & the emptiness.”

When Kline joined the major independent record label Sub Pop and signed away her freedom to acquire a new name as she pleased, “Frankie Cosmos,” cleanly capitalized, became her official, permanent alter-ego. But the changes never ended. Underneath the name “Frankie Cosmos” is a fluid, ever-changing concept of who exactly Frankie Cosmos is.

At first, Frankie Cosmos was essentially Greta Kline’s solo project. She sang about her own life, about her own insecurities, about art school, her brother Owen and her dog Jesse. People resonated with her brand of soft, whispery lo-fi rock filled with hyper-specific chronicles of self-doubt. “High school made me cry,” she croons on the introspective “Zentropy,” her 17-minute-long studio debut that Vulture named the best pop album of 2014.

But on “Close It Quietly,” Greta Kline’s fourth studio album that was released last Friday, Frankie Cosmos is a full-fledged band. Press releases increasingly feature Kline flanked by her three bandmates, and with this new branding comes a larger, more polished and poppier album than anything Kline has produced. Still, behind the occasional punchy drums and mildly danceable disco grooves, Kline’s voice sounds much the same: introverted, earnest and lilting, like she’s alone in her bedroom, pouring her heart out after a school dance gone awry. 

While Kline’s past releases were confined to the bedroom, the bus, the school hallways — the spaces she frequents — “Close It Quietly” broadens Kline’s scope, applying her introspection to the world. The album’s hesitant opening line, “The world is crumbling and I don’t have much to say,” introduces the listener to this shift in perspective. Despite what Kline says, she does have a lot to say, and the rest of the album glows with her illuminating, yet never fully assertive, observation and self-reflection.

On “Last Season’s Textures,” the 14th of the album’s 21 songs, each averaging less than 2 minutes, Frankie Cosmos takes a stab at a topic nearly all artists suddenly seem to be wrestling with: the news. Thankfully, she’s honest, and not just posturing to make a political statement; she’s “f***ing glad for [her] bubble,” which is presumably something like the leftist New Yorker art crowd. Her questions are rarely answered, and her observations are rarely without a qualifier, a “maybe.”

Twenty-one sensitive, uncertainty-filled songs in one album could feel tedious, but, for the most part, the band’s more eclectic approach keeps “Close It Quietly” engaging. There are sunny jangle pop chords in “Rings (On a Tree),” smooth synth descents in the catchy single “Windows” and stripped-down arrangements on “With Great Purpose,” in which Greta Kline’s father (Kevin Kline) plays piano and her mother (Phoebe Cates) sings harmony over acoustic guitar pickings.

While the first half of the album features some of the most memorable Frankie Cosmos songs to date — “A Joke” stands out as the band at its most melodic, minimalist and endearing — the latter half descends into more familiar styles and forgettable melodies. The band still stretches the limits of a guitar-bass-drums arrangement — the whims of Kline’s lyrics often direct sudden mid-song changes in tempo and dynamics — and motifs weave in and out of the track list, with images like trees, diamonds and tears reappearing in new contexts, as new vessels of interpretation.

Frankie Cosmos is growing into a bigger band, with heavier guitars, more synths and louder, faster songs. Or at least that’s the narrative. Like any narrative, it obscures the complexities, the exceptions. In reality, “Close It Quietly” ends, fittingly, with a stretch of subdued, gentle tracks, and the last song, “This Swirling,” fades out into a few last moments of silence. Changes aren’t always straightforward — in life, music and identity — and as Greta Kline sings in “A Joke,” “Flowers don’t grow in an organized way,” so why should she?

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