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Frankie Cosmos wins hearts and minds in two minutes or less 

click to enlarge Much ado about Frankie: Frontwoman Kline lets out her bass instincts. - LOROTO PRODUCTIONS
  • Loroto Productions
  • Much ado about Frankie: Frontwoman Kline lets out her bass instincts.
If there’s anyone out there who misses the term “math rock,” but doesn’t miss the conspicuously complicated music that came with it, Greta Kline has written some deceptively simple songs that may offer a degree of consolation. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter, who records with various musicians under the name Frankie Cosmos, has a thing for abstract mathematics, a subject that has likely sunk more high school GPA averages than any other.

“I’m not particularly good at math, but I think that it’s really interesting,” says the exceedingly prolific New York musician, who has gone so far as to reference the Fibonacci Sequence in her song “Cow Meeting/Holy Moment.” “I recently have been writing a lot of songs thinking about triangles, and how lines in the geometric plane can only intersect once, if they’re straight lines. If you’ve got any two shapes — let’s say a square and a triangle — and you put them on the same plane, and you extend each line forever, their lines are going to intersect at certain points. And I think that stuff is really interesting from a philosophical standpoint. It’s kind of beautiful.”
The same can be said for much of Frankie Cosmos’ third album, called Vessel, an 18-song, 34-minute exercise in temporal restraint that will be released this week on the Sub Pop label. Kline, who happens to be the daughter of actors Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates, has a sweetly understated vocal style reminiscent of Young Marble Giants’ Alison Statton, as well as a knack for curious lyrics and lilting pop hooks that are made all the more memorable by the jangly twee-pop tones of bassist/vocalist David Maine, keyboardist/vocalist Lauren Martin and drummer Luke Pyenson.

While Vessel is Frankie Cosmos’ third proper studio album, it’s actually the 52nd release from Kline, who has recorded under such Bandcamp pseudonyms as Ingrid Superstar, Little Bear, The Ingrates and Zebu Fur. Titles like Sunrise Over Interpositioned Buildings, Jared Leto Can’t Read, sMartyr and Much Ado About Fucking suggest the caliber and quirkiness of Kline’s sense of humor.

But her lyrics can also be quietly poignant. “I don’t feel my body is a vessel,” she sings on the album’s title track, “but you seem to.” Elsewhere, Kline, Maine and Martin take turns on the refrain “Matters quite a bit / Even when you / Feel like shit / Being alive.”
Since signing to Sub Pop, Kline has cut back on her constant flow of online solo tracks, but continues to write feverishly, even when her band is out on the road. “When I’m home, I’m pretty much just at my house, staying in my little zone,” she says. “I actually write the most when I’m on tour, because I’m so stimulated by being in new locations, and meeting new people, and having all these interactions.”

The strangest interaction so far — one among many, she says — was in Oslo, Norway, after Kline and her bandmates went out to dinner with the show’s promoter. “There was a dance competition going on in the next room, so my bandmates and I snuck in and started dancing with all these elderly people. It was really fun and weird — like we were the most out of place we could possibly be — and there was this really strange band that sounded like we were in Twin Peaks. It was such a strange feeling, the whole thing.”

While the transition from lo-fi bedroom recording artist to a full band approach has taken some getting used to, Kline is pleased with how it’s all turning out. “It’s fun to hear what my bandmates come up with, in terms of arrangements and making it into a bigger sound,” she says. “The first time I did it was hard, because I didn’t know how to talk about music enough to ask for what I needed. I had to let go of needing to do it all myself, and get used to hearing the songs through someone else’s ears. But it’s gotten easier now. It’s safe to just kind of let go, and just trust the people around you, that they’re going to add something that’s cool.”

While Frankie Cosmos’ musical touchstones range from avant-disco cellist Arthur Russell to freak-folk forefather Michael Hurley, Kline takes her literary cues from the late Frank O’Hara, a member of the loosely knit New York School of poets that was active in the 1950s and early ’60s. Like Kline, O’Hara was insanely productive during his 40 years on this planet, as evidenced by a posthumous poetry collection that spans 568 pages.

“A lot of his poems are kind of like taking the mundane, or seemingly small moments, and turning them into these meditative poems,” says Kline. “I think I was inspired by the idea of, like, ‘Oh, I’m just having lunch, but that could be a song.’”

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