The music of Frankie Cosmos takes you on a search for light amid the darkness | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The music of Frankie Cosmos takes you on a search for light amid the darkness

“Writing this album was an emotional turning point for me.”

Greta Kline writes songs that could fit on the back of a postcard. It’s not that they’re transmissions from a more alluring venue; they just scan as concise thoughts that suggest further conversation instead of clean resolution.

The brevity of her songs is noteworthy — and could be one of the first things you notice while listening — but it isn’t meant to be a defining quality. For Kline, who performs as Frankie Cosmos, the track lengths, which rarely flirt with the three-minute mark, serve more of a utilitarian purpose than anything. 

“I just write the songs as long as I feel they need to be to get my idea across,” she writes in an email.

Kline is the daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, but her music feels like a quaint retreat from the spotlight. She has a pair of acting credits, including a brief part in Noah Baumbach’s 2003 film The Squid and the Whale, but she assures me that acting never threatened songwriting or poetry to become her top creative interest. Kline’s pint-sized indie-pop songs are a gloriously twee rebuke to Hollywood glitz, and a recent MTV News piece lumped Frankie Cosmos in with “the new wave of fun rock.”

Although 2014’s Zentropy, last year’s Fit Me In EP and her recent sophomore album, Next Thing, introduced Kline’s music to many, she’s been working in this mode for a while. Kline has released an astonishing amount of music for an artist of any age, but she’s managed this prolific run at just 22. As a teenager, she released more than a dozen collections to her Bandcamp page under the name Ingrid Superstar. In late 2011, when she met current partner Aaron Maine, of Porches, Kline assumed the alias of Frankie Cosmos, and continued to crank out these efficient songs at the same rate.

Since the initial breakthrough of Zentropy, Kline has slowed things down for Frankie Cosmos. The Bandcamp page isn’t as brimming with new content as it used to be, which elevates the anticipation for each new studio album. On the surface, Next Thing is an album that playfully deflects expectations. The hand-drawn album artwork suggests that it’s just another stop along the highway of her career, but the record sure feels like an impressive destination.

On Zentropy, her first proper album, Kline laid the groundwork for airtight moments of profundity and humor — sometimes fusing the two into a minute-long track. She sang about her dearly departed dog, featured on the record’s cover; pushing back against growing up; and art-school malaise. Next Thing doesn’t abandon this approach, but covers an even wider spectrum of emotion. 

Whether she’s simply aging, maturing or revamping songs from her Bandcamp days with more hi-def arrangements —  “Too Dark,” “On the Lips” and “Embody” come from some of her earliest collections as Frankie Cosmos — Kline approaches similar themes from new angles. 

“I feel like there are often consistent themes, but my attitudes and perspectives move throughout the album,” Kline writes.

She’s still concerned with the passage of time and her career; on “I’m 20,” she slyly observes, “I’m 20, washed up already.” But many of these tracks assume different points of view and cover darker territory than heard on Zentropy. Kline often grimly explores the messiness of being in love on Next Thing. There are the tiresome feelings of waiting around for someone; lovelorn thoughts about missed opportunities; discarding toxic relationships; and nearly everything in between. 

It’s not all gloom and doom, though, as she finds inspiration and warmth in those closest to her. On “Embody,” Kline name-checks several friends who “embody all the grace and lightness,” even if we’re to think it’s something she’s still reaching toward.

But even when these songs are at their bleakest, there’s a quiet hopefulness behind how quickly they come and go. On “Sinister,” she sings, “my soul is not like a waterpark, it’s big but surprisingly dark,” before she refers to the music of Arthur Russell as a cure for her sadness. One track later, on “Is It Possible / Sleep Song,” she contemplates the idea of sleeping off her sorrows and dropping partners who treat her like shit. At various points on the record, whenever Kline seems especially depressed, there’s a pervading sense that things will get better. 

“I think because writing this album was an emotional turning point for me,” Kline says, “you can pick up on that positivity in the songs, despite some of them being sad, too.”

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