Frankie Cosmos’ music is like a complete world. The first sign is that her bandcamp contains over 50 releases under many different names, including Greta (her real name), Ingrid Superstar, The Ingrates, and, of course, Frankie Cosmos. Many of these records also feature her dog on the cover or in music videos (‘dog’ is also one of the tags for this album on Bandcamp). So although Next Thing is her second ‘official’ studio album, there really is a universe of music that precedes it. What’s in a name?
But I also mean that in a different way. Even considering only Next Thing, it is as if Frankie Cosmos has distilled a lifetime of daydreams, diary entries, late-night pillow talk, DMC’s and general silliness into barely half an hour of music. Again, the Bandcamp tags are illustrative: ‘quiet’, ‘sad’, and ‘stupid’. Most lyrics deal with becoming who you are, or being defined in the eyes of others. ‘I’m 20’ seems to be nothing more than a frank realisation of growing up. ‘On the Lips’ is a mini-story about saying goodbye to someone at the subway station and doubting whether to kiss them. It could be real or the kind of daydream people have, sparked by a stranger in the crowd. But when Frankie Cosmos asks the simple question “why would i kiss ya, if i could kiss ya?”, she somehow captures everything that’s universal in that simple scenario.
Despite Next Thing being a very personal album (another Bandcamp tag is ‘secret’), the best moments are when Frankie Cosmos invites the listener into her idiosyncratic world. It can be a simple repeated “what if”, challenging you to come up with an answer, or a bit more postmodern self-awareness such as in ‘Outside with the Cuties’, when she bluntly asks: “i haven’t written this part yet, will you help me write it?”. Since the song is about a diary entry she writes when she’s out with friends, this line can be self-consistently interpreted as something she asks her lover, who is ignoring her, but I like to think she is asking the listener, you and me, to write the part, simply by living.
It is too easy to call all this ‘cute’. The music has that carefree bedroom sound, like a warm, human kind of 80s video game music, and Frankie Cosmos’ husky voice belongs to someone who just woke up or has cried on the phone, rather than a distant rock star. But her world goes far too deep for that. ‘Too Dark’ is full of self-doubt (“when i know i’m not the best girl in the room / i tell myself i’m the best you can do / do i belong do i belong do i belong / noooooo”) and even though the title of the track playfully acknowledges that, it doesn’t make it less painful – maybe only more so. On ‘Sinister’, she admits “sometimes I just feel sinister” (and in my mind I want to tell her ‘if you’re feeling sinister, go up and see your minister’ because people who feel like this need Belle & Sebastian in their life), complaining that “my soul is not like a waterpark / it’s big but surprisingly dark”.
If Frankie Cosmos invites you into her world, she will show you the bad and dark parts too. This openness only makes the album more enigmatic, because understanding a person is a million times more difficult than understanding a song or a story. A person is a world. Frankie Cosmos’ world is one for those who quietly listen to Belle & Sebastian, who wonder about what could have happened in a thousand situations, who can be awkward and curious. And it’s a world I like.
-- Caspar Jacobs, April 3, 2016