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Extremely Hidden Gems on Vessel by Frankie Cosmos

Frankie Cosmos is one of my all-time favorite artists. Singer-songwriter Greta Kline has released 52 albums on Bandcamp since 2009, 49 of which are solo. These solo albums were recorded at home on Garageband and casually uploaded. Her music acts as a diary, documenting the personal events of her life since age 15. A mixture of intriguing guitar melodies, intimate lyrics and low-quality recording makes her music so stirring.

But since Kline has started releasing higher-quality studio albums with a band, beginning with her 2014 album Zentropy, the content quality of her music has declined. The private aspect of her music is now public, changing the way she writes. Her newest 18-track album, Vessel, released on March 30, is a mixed bag. It’s disappointing, but I honestly can’t say I had super high expectations knowing that she wouldn’t be working alone. 

“Caramelize,” the first track on the album, is musically captivating, but lacks lyrical content. Kline’s sweet voice is accompanied by harmonies from bandmate Lauren Martin. Most of the lyrics on this track are insignificant, but one line stands out- Kline sings, “I want in on the other side / Love your eyelids where you hide / Or further in that neatest dark.” Anyone who has been or been with a shy lover will understand. She continues the theme of closed eyes on the next track, “Apathy,” with the line, “When you close your dreamy eyes / Are they even close to dreaming of mine?” This bashful love has been a focus of hers throughout her career.

I didn’t think I could hate anything Kline made, but I absolutely hate the new version of “Duet.” The original track on her beautiful 2014 album, Donutes, perfectly conveys the loving feeling she’s writing about. Quiet and intimate, the song really tugs on the heart strings. The addition of instruments and increase of recording-quality in this song takes away from the intimacy, completely ruining the message.

Kline ruined another old song on this album. “Being Alive” first appeared on her incredible 2014 album, Affirms Glinting. Soft and intimate, Kline’s layered vocals and soft guitar on this track are just enough. On Vessel, the song is fast and loud, ruining its original beauty and message once again.

Some songs on the album are difficult to judge by their title. “Bus Bus Train Train” has about as much lyrical content as you’d expect it to, but “My Phone” is a surprisingly heartfelt and beautiful song. Kline and Martin sing, “My phone will crash and I don’t even care / ‘Cause I know you are there / I know you are there.” Short and sweet at 32 seconds, this song sends a comforting message.

A few songs on the album are reminiscent of past Frankie Cosmos. The intro to “As Often as I Can” is pure Kline with soft strummed guitar and vocal harmonies, but disappointingly transitions into her new sound. “This Stuff” is also soft and loving, and thankfully does not make the dreaded transition. It ends with some random synth notes and laughter from Kline, connecting the album to her messy and authentic roots.  “The End” finally sounds like the real Frankie Cosmos. It’s the only demo that made it onto the album, and although it’s not as spectacular as her older works, I’m thankful for it.

“Ballad of R & J” is one of the best songs on the album. Upbeat and changing, it follows the long-distance relationship of strangers Ricky and Julie. The parts sung by Kline are in the first-person, whereas the choruses are sung by her bandmates in the third-person. The listener isn’t sure whether Kline is singing about herself, or about the couple. Bassist David Maine sings, “Ricky felt alone now / So he went to the store / Gathered up some flowers / To mail to Julie’s door.” Lauren Martin sings, “Julie had his flowers / Taped up on the wall / ‘It’s better to love Ricky / From afar than not at all.’” This tragic but thoughtful relationship makes the listener question whether or not it is really worth it to be so far away from the one you love.

About half of the album is left out of this review, and it’s purposeful. The songs aren’t terrible, but just aren’t really worth talking about. I’m grateful for the few gems on Vessel, but my standards for Greta Kline have been set too high. I’ll be patiently waiting for her to release another solo Bandcamp album.

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