Frank O’Hara was a poet of everyday New York City. Central among the artists who made up the “New York School” of the 1950s and ‘60s, he spun together beautiful words from mundane conversations, advertisements, and little observations, accessing profundity through quiet, unremarkable images.
O’Hara is an apt namesake for Frankie Cosmos, the band fronted by Greta Kline, whose latest album, Next Thing, is comprised of 15 short poems in the form of bedroom pop songs. With the shortest track measuring 45 seconds and the longest just two minutes and 43 seconds, each one is a compact, economical dose of wise yet understated reflection—more snapshots than stories. As New York Magazine said of Zentropy, her first album, when it named it the best pop album of 2014 (beating out St. Vincent, Jenny Lewis, and One Direction, among others), “the wisest, wittiest person in the room is rarely the loudest one but instead that unassuming girl in the corner, grinning contentedly at her untied shoes.”
On Next Thing, that girl in the corner also does her fair share of frowning. “Do I belong?” she repeats over and over again, landing in anxiety after a falsetto flight in “Too Dark,” and on “Is It Possible / Sleep Song,” she ends, “Goodbye forever / What the fuck”—the final consonant smacking the speakers, sounding close and raw. In these and other moments, Frankie Cosmos balances the syrupiness in the melodies and harmonies carried by the girlish voices of Kline and bandmate Gabby Smith (of another cutesy-leaning Brooklyn band, Eskimeaux).
Next Thing does have its fair share of twee, though, between the soft, even vocal delivery, bouncy bass and simple guitar-driven structures, and sometimes quirky-sweet lyrics (“If I had a dog / I’d take a picture every day”). But for every saccharine moment, there’s another of self-awareness (“Am I still so sad? / Is that pretty lame?” she follows up that first line from “If I Had a Dog”) or cutting directness (“Feeling pretty touched / ‘Cause my friends are in love,” she sings in the ‘60s pop-tinged “Outside with the Cuties”) that grounds her music. “Twee” suggests an affect, while Frankie Cosmos feels earnest, deeply entrenched in its frontwoman’s personal subjectivity. It is a place she can express well after having mined it in more than 40 releases in the last four years.
The result of that feverish excavation is a collection of little gems that are so shiny and luminous that they are reflective. In one of the most radiant, “Embody,” she sings, “It’s Sunday night / And my friends are friends with my friends / It shows me / They embody / All grace and lightness,” capturing a very personal reverie (with the names of friends included) yet one that is also universal, all with the lightest of strokes. Like the first half of her namesake and contrary to the second, Kline’s art is entirely from the material of this world—but at its brightest and most pure.