May 18, 2016

LP: Frankie Cosmos - Next Thing

Reflecting on Frankie Cosmos' standout sophomore album.

For all her unassuming bashful words, tenderly warbling voice, and awkward stances, Frankie Cosmos has already created a kind of epic chronicle of herself — doubts, loves, losses, pearls of wisdom and all. Next Thing, as well as her first proper album, Zentropy, represent the most polished, complete iterations of her so far. She is, after all, a character; a long shadow cast by her creator, Greta Kline. She’s a character I’ve loved for a long time, a kind of trompe d’oeil that hides brilliant songwriting, deep thought, and a big heart behind a self-diminishing persona. Next Thing is Frankie’s second studio album, but far from the second body of work; in fact, it’s the 51st project listed on her bandcamp, where I and other longtime fans first listened to her. For that reason, the title is a bit disingenuous, because some of the songs on Next Thing have actually been on her page for a minute in their original demo form. The title does make sense, though, in terms of Frankie’s self-deprecating aesthetic; it’s a title that says that thinking of a title is embarrassing. Embarrassment, loneliness, alienation, rejection, generally feeling bad: these are Frankie’s bread-and-butter. Her genius is in presenting these states so simply: “I’m twenty / washed up already” or “It all makes sense now, thanks so much / Goodbye forever, what the fuck?” I always find it magical that these little statements are so easy to connect to, even though they’re only offered in fragments, strung along like single beads. Each one a is little world unto itself that adds up to Frankie’s specific kind of thoughtful, girlish melancholy.

Of course, it’s the sound that really makes Frankie’s music work. Her voice is mopey but melodic, and in this album, she preserves the feeling of girl-alone-with-guitar, even with much more extensive production. Sometimes I feel voyeuristic listening to Frankie as she seems to be laying herself bare in every one of her songs. But more often, I melt into her perspective, put myself into the blanks of her songs, and feel along with her. Speaking of blanks, Next Thing is full of them. I already pointed out how the title is a kind of placeholder, and there are lots of moments like that in the lyrics themselves. In “If I Had A Dog,” Frankie describes other people’s advice on love: “You'll find a better one / and a comment about my body." The comment isn’t specified; the lyric is a kind of MadLib. Later, in the song “Outside With The Cuties,” she end a verse abruptly with “I haven't finished this song yet, will you help me fix it?” This lyric is Frankie par excellence—fearfully but endearingly deferring to her audience, cleverly stepping through the fourth wall to remind us, but more importantly herself, that’s she’s real. I think Frankie best explains this leaving-of-blanks in the song “I’m 20”: “If by some chance you know what is cool, tell me how / I want to be just how you would imagine me to.” If she leaves some parts blank, we can fill them in to our own liking. What this last lyric shows, though, is that that generosity comes equally from a terrible self-knowledge that no one person can please everyone (or maybe anyone, for that matter), and the desperate desire to please. Luckily, both of those feelings are near-universal, blanks any listener can easily fit themselves into.


Listen to Frankie Cosmos on bandcamp.


Simone Wolff lives in NYC with their grandma, best friend, boyfriend, snake, spider, and two cats. They’re a Cancer sun, Gemini moon, and Capricorn rising.