The Magic of Frankie Cosmos: Too Young to Decide and Trying Everything
The prolific 22-year-old returns with an LP that wrestles with time, relationships, and emotion. It is, however, her happiest record to date and even David Blaine is a fan.
David Blaine wants you to buy the Frankie Cosmos album.
Why? Well, unless we ask the illusionist himself, we won’t know for sure, but it could be Greta Kline’s soft, fluttering vocals, like sleepy, sorrowful yawns from the bedroom. Or it could be her poetry about life, love, and friendship that’ll have you putting a magnifying glass to your own experiences. Or it could be the gentle, non-threatening guitar that lifts Kline’s melodies up and turns them into fully-fledged masterpieces.
Or, being the narcissistic guy Blaine is, it’s probably because Kline wedged a reference to him into Next Thing’s mid-album track “On The Lips”: “I watch David Blaine / By myself / Believing in anything.” It’s a line you can take at face value, or you can bulk up to describe all the dreaming you do when when you’re alone and how susceptible you can be to your own imagination.
Yeah, that’s probably it. Good enough for Blaine to retweet a Frankie Cosmos pre-order link and follow her on Twitter. I ask Kline on the phone if they’re pals now. “I mean, apparently. We haven’t talked or anything,” she giggles. “It’s cool.”
They have more in common than you’d think. The native New Yorkers are cool in their own ways, presenting you with something that hits you in the gut. That's not to say 22-year-old Kline can put an ice pick through her hand, but the ordinary is a springboard, taking the mundane and building it to a message that's profound. She may sing, "If I had a dog / I'd take a picture every day," but that lyric is the puzzle piece to a larger picture about grief and how she internalizes loss. Blaine and Kline both put themselves out there for you—whether it’s swallowing kerosene for a trick or confessing her part in a friendship that fell apart in the face of honesty. If Blaine is creating the illusion, Kline can analyze it for you.
The magic of Frankie Cosmos is that your reaction might not inspire a squeal of disbelief, but, while listening to her music, there will be moments where you’ll pause and say, “Oh... yeah.”
With the music taste of her parents and older brother Owen as a jumping off point (they'd listen to Hall & Oates, Liz Phair and the Indigo Girls together), Kline grew up in the DIY venues of NYC—Silent Barn, Market Hotel, and, yes, David Blaine’s The Steakhouse—which provided her all-ages opportunities to soak in the scene. She claims the music of her now-boyfriend Aaron Maine (of the band Porches) pushed her to make her own. In 2009, she started a Bandcamp account under the name Ingrid Superstar, and then uploaded her first album. And then she uploaded another, and then another, and another, until she had over 45 collections recorded when she was feeling sick, or missing her family dog, or reminiscing on her 5th grade love life, or singing from the point of view of her toothbrush. Each song rarely reaches the two-minute mark, which can be said of the compositions on Next Thing too.
She started playing shows in New York and made friends with other bands on Bandcamp, getting out of the city to play with them as well. She played bass in Porches, while the Maine brothers played in her band. And in 2014, she released her official debut, Zentropy, on Double Double Whammy. After signing to Bayonet, she released 2015's Fit Me In EP where experimented with more electronic sounds, and this April Fools’ Day, we got Next Thing, which features some of her older Bandcamp songs, along with new ones written for the project.
This may be a good time to remember that she just celebrated her 22nd birthday, and that she already has a clutch of critically acclaimed releases in her discography. (Pitchfork has already slapped a Best New Music sticker on Next Thing.) She’s young and accomplished, and based on what you know about Kline’s ability to self-analyze, you know she’s already given that some thought too.
“I’m 20, washed up already / I’d sell my soul for a free pen / On it the name of your corporation,” she sings on “I’m 20.” The lyric is one of those self-deprecating pokes she’s been known to dole out, but it’s also a part of Kline lifting the lid on age, a big focus of the album. Frankie Cosmos can be an illusionist too, and she’s trying to muddle society’s rigid barriers on youth... and old age.
“When you’re young, you’re too young / When you’re old, you’re too old,” she sings simply on “What If.” It’s sung so demurely that you’ll need to do an audio double-take to absorb its complexity.
“Ultimately it comes down to putting restrictions on stuff and being who you are at a specific time,” Kline tells me after I ask her about the lyric. “And if that means going to college when you’re 30, and you feel ready, you shouldn’t be ashamed of that.
“For me, my version of it is feeling too young to decide what I want to be because I have to try everything before I figure out what I want to do with my life,” she continues. “And too old, too far into this career that I basically have to go back.”
“This career” she’s made includes constantly writing and recording music with her bandmates, playing in DIY venues like Shea Stadium while also living the branded life at SXSW, constantly touring, meeting fans, and talking to us on the phone. That being said, she values her alone time—time to recharge.
“I’m social every night on tour and at a show talking to people,” she says. “But in general, I’m not a social person. Some of my most cherished time is alone. A little bit of both.”
Despite the beginning of her catalogue being labeled as sad, her latest record is a happy one. And if anyone confuses it with “sad girl” music, they might be getting sadness mixed up with self-reflection. It can, at times, veer on mopey, but her brand of navel gazing can also be super celebratory if you let it. And while she needs time to herself, her life is also built around and anchored by her friends. Their presence and influence hinted at in lyrical cameos. On "Embody" for instance she sings: "Sarah is a lightbeam from pictures Jonah sent me / It makes me so happy / She embodies all grace and lightness." Later she adds: "Florist signs are everywhere / Emily is in the air / On tour / With Gabby / We'll embody all the grace and lightness."
A lot of Kline’s friends are in bands and so I figure from these lyrics that Gabby is Gabrielle Smith of Eskimeaux, who’s featured on the album (together, they’ll tour the country for the entirety of April). Elsewhere Emily is Emily Sprague of Florist; Jonah is Jonah Furman of Krill.
“I love hanging out with friends one on one,” she says. “It’s the best thing for me—being real with a friend, hanging out and talking and eating food. Those are things that I like to do. I like very calm, social interactions, like being at someone’s house.”
Now we just need David Blaine to invite her over to his place to hang out.
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