Fourth Wall Breaker
Jul 28, 2016
Photography by Ray Lego Issue # 57 - M83
There's a moment near the end of Next Thing—the second studio album by Frankie Cosmos—that perfectly encapsulates the disarmingly conversational spirit of Greta Kline's music. It comes halfway through "Outside With the Cuties," a playfully longing ballad with oohing backing vocals. "I haven't written this part yet," she coos as all of the instruments fade out under a cloud of echo. "Can you help me write it?"
Such fourth wall breaking is not uncommon in Kline's work. The daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, her songs are striking in their unstudied immediacy, and her authorial voice is instantly identifiable as a result. In fact, the tracks on Next Thing are so effortlessly executed that it's easy to understate how delicate a balance the 21-year-old Manhattanite is striking, walking the line between unpretentious charm and amateurish cutesiness, between plainspoken directness and I'm-so-quirky affectations. Having already released somewhere around 50 full-length albums, many of them off-the-cuff musical journal entries that she recorded at home and posted to her Bandcamp page almost immediately, Kline has been documenting her craft for half a decade. If 2014's Zentropy proved that she could move into the world of studio recordings and retain her no-frills sound, Next Thing proves that she can continue to develop her songwriting while maintaining its eccentricities.
"The first time I was in the studio, I didn't really have the vocabulary to explain what I wanted from the record," Kline says on a cold Manhattan morning. "This time we'd had years of arranging to get the songs right where we wanted them. With Zentropy, when we went into the studio, the whole band was me playing guitar and Aaron [Maine] playing drums, and all we had in terms of arrangements were the drums and guitar parts. So we were writing the bass and keyboard stuff in the studio, whereas this time we were like, 'We have these three-part harmonies that we want to put in, and we have all the keyboard and bass parts written, and we know how we want to record it.'"
The result is a more deliberate and intentional Frankie Cosmos, one that can seamlessly transition from the melancholy twee of "If I Had a Dog" to the sweetly self-searching "I'm 20" and the lo-fi ear candy of "Sinister." Maine, Kline's boyfriend, has since left the band to focus on his Porches project, and Kline stopped playing bass in his band in order to avoid exhausting herself through year-round touring. She's still producing new material at the same prodigious pace she was before, writing and recording hundreds of songs. But now that she's choosing to hold back the majority of her material in order to develop her best songs, does she run the risk of polishing the idiosyncrasies out of her songs?
"I think that's the thing that's scary about being more selective about the music that I put out," she admits. "Am I going to lose that spontaneity and overthink stuff? Am I going to be thinking too hard about the idea that this is for a release when I should just be making everything? I think it's good to think about things a lot, but it's important not to overthink everything. It's a weird balance to find there. I'm still working on it."
If Next Thing is any indication, that weird balance is already present. Kline has created a perfectly insular work, one whose songs display a newfound textual richness while retaining their unkempt edges. Even better, Kline is developing as a tunesmith, the rare writer who can craft hooks that sound created in-the-moment but that reveal meticulous layers of design upon closer inspection. Unlike the K Records icons and anti-folkers with whom she shares an aesthetic foundation, Kline writes songs that seem destined to outgrow their rainy day intimacy. But even if her days as a bedroom pop diarist may be over, she's not sure she's ready to move on to the thousand-seat venues that would mark the next stage in her commercial development.
"I really can't imagine playing venues that big with these songs," she says. "I think it would be hilarious for us to play a festival or something, but I could see it happening. If anything, I don't think it would really change, because I don't think that I'm ever going to become a different character on stage than I am in real life. And I think that's what keeps that intimacy with the audience. I hope it wouldn't affect it in a negative way, but I don't know if that's going to happen," she laughs. "We'll have to just wait and see."
[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar's May/June 2016 Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]
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