Though it’ll be an introduction for most listeners, Frankie Cosmos’ Zentropy is the 47th thing posted under that name on BandCamp. That’s a lot of material for anyone, but given that songwriter Greta Kline’s only 19 years old, the stat becomes sort of surreal. The new record, physically and digitally released this week, is a natural starting point. It features the clarity of a studio recording versus her usual laptop production, and the increased possibility and heft of a couple additional musicians. Its 10 songs unfold in under 20 minutes, the most epic one wrapping up at 2:27, but it’s somehow fully satisfying. It’s likely the best twee-ish album from a New York City band since Hospitality’s debut, which, of course, only came out 2 years ago. But considering the universal, fuzzy feelings of youth that fuels the stuff, the low technical bar it takes to play it, and a moment in time when nearly everyone seems inclined to share their work online, those 2 years could contain a previous decade’s entire output. Weirdly though, the evergreen ubiquity indie-pop has gained makes the real gems stand out more, not less. This one’s a real gem.
The album has plenty of precedents that aren’t particularly important to note, but we can cover them briefly. The acoustic guitar and soft voice highlighted on her earlier posts have made Kimya Dawson an unavoidable comparison. Frankie Cosmos songs aren’t as self-consciously rhymey-cutesy as Dawson’s solo records, though, and Kline thankfully never goes for the phony “what did I say?” shock content that The Moldy Peaches leaned far too heavily on in the early 00s. Occasional vocal support from Kline’s boyfriend/deep-voiced Porches’ frontman Aaron Maine recalls the allure of Beat Happening’s Calvin Johnson popping in on that one Heavenly song. In its sincere but smart, matter-of-fact tone, it reminds me of those early Belle and Sebastian EPs, not as sonically full as they were from the start, but as casually compelling for its mundane specificity.
Like in those Dog on Wheels era B & S songs, Kline’s lyrics give daily events just the right amount of importance—not too much, though it can sometimes feel like a lot. Frankie complains about school, gets sad about her dead dog, has a birthday, sneaks a beer or two, wants to get taken out on a date, normal stuff. The turns of phrase are clear and sharp, though. The album-opening “art school makes you wild, real school makes you wanna get high…” is the first of a quotable bunch. The tiny blip running lengths are a real boon to her modest, sophisticated songwriting. The tracks never coast or wear out good ideas with unneeded repetition, instead surprising when they bloom on delay. (Like early Wire if they were a sorta-sad teenage girl!) The over-the-top moping that starts “Buses Splash With Rain” hardly suggests the easy, danceable guitar pop it soon turns into. For anyone not completely allergic to the charms of the twee lineage, Zentropy is featherlight but practically perfect.
If the thinkpiece economy demands an interesting personal story, salacious detail, or narrative crutch on top of a near-perfect record to really make something pop, Kline’s got a couple in her back pocket. (If you are a meta-brain like St. Vincent’s Annie Clark, you can make your narrative about refusing narratives, but she’s the only one who gets away with that.) The combination of extreme youth and crazy prolificacy is the first obvious hook, precocious talent will probably always be. Not much of the previously posted material is up to the standard of the new songs (excepting the few oldies cleaned up and re-recorded for the record), but the enormity of Kline’s BandCamp output is still sort of reassuring. Her natural knack for melody, hooks, and humor is apparent in most all of it, even the stuff put out when she was 15. But given the contrast of that unconquerable mass of song sketches, her new record’s relative polish and consistent quality becomes more admirable. At the very lest, there’s an overwhelming amount of evidence that Zentropy isn’t the entirety of a slim catalog of ideas that only adds up to 17 minutes. Underestimating her in that way is laughable.
A second notable thing about her is liable to get Kline underestimated in another, more insidious way. She happens to be the daughter of actors Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline. That glamorous parentage hasn’t been a focus of the press she’s gotten so far, almost to the point of self-conscious avoidance. That’s probably because it’s more or less irrelevant to songs containing super common feelings of emotionally bruised youth, and it’s easy to feel vicariously protective of somebody making such sweet, vulnerable music. But that doesn’t mean it won’t become a bludgeon used against her if and when deserved critical success starts rolling in. The cavalier, nonsensical way in which people assumed a cult-art figure like Laurie Simmons was able to easily secure an HBO sitcom for her daughter lingers in recent memory, and Kline’s parents are much more famous. (On the flip side, it might be a bonus for those already inclined to admire a long-married, relatively normal-seeming New York celebrity couple. I mean, for a child of the 90s, the fact that Kevin Kline’s daughter made a lo-fi album called Much Ado About Fucking is pretty goddamn delightful.) You can see the jerks start peeping out from the comments of one of a few Brooklyn Vegan mentions she’s gotten though, maybe for the first time I can remember, a wave of goodwill and admiration drowns them out. It’d be dreamy to think that we might still retain the ability to be charmed by something without working so hard to discover some sort of disqualifying catch.
Zentropy is out now on Double Double Whammy, and the band plays Shea Stadium in Williamsburg this Saturday.