Review: Frankie Cosmos' Next Thing

This record is intimate in a way that very few others are.
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This record is intimate in a way that very few others are.
frankie cosmos next thing.jpg

TALKING ABOUT NEXT THING is like gossiping about a friend. Saying anything about it, good or bad, feels like a breach of privacy, because this record is intimate in a way that very few others are. Instead of being a complete portrait of the artist’s psyche, it’s a collection of bits and pieces that never coalesce into anything concrete or overtly meaningful. But you don’t walk away from a half-hour conversation feeling like you have a full understanding of the other party. No, you remember the interaction because of the little glimpses of something more complex than the words spoken aloud, something beautiful between the lines. Next Thing is a beautiful album, but its beauty exists between those lines. Explaining why it’s beautiful is a difficult undertaking.

“Twee pop” has never been a particularly flattering descriptor, but in recent years the derogatory connotations of “twee” have started to come to the forefront, with veterans like Belle and Sebastian releasing their least interesting music to date and new groups like Alvvays doing little to temper the genre’s reputation for cloying self-awareness. To find the closest tonal analogue to Next Thing’s brand of twee pop, we have to go all the way back to 1988, when Beat Happening released their second album Jamboree and with it the track “Indian Summer”. Jamboree is an amateurish, simplistic, and often abrasive album, but the barely competent musicianship and nonsensical lyrics become paradoxically sublime on “Indian Summer”. Something about the song’s starkness resonates in a way that no amount of stylish production can replicate, painting a relatable picture of a transient but fleetingly rewarding relationship. Next Thing doesn’t sound much like “Indian Summer” on the surface, but they feel the same. The song that most easily brings the latter to mind is “On the Lips”, the album’s centerpiece and first single, which follows a fairly standard forlorn love song structure, telling a concise story of loss, longing, and hope. “I watch you disappear/As my train rolls away/I know you could’ve kissed me/But I’ll have to wait,” isn’t too unique of a lyric, but Greta Kline (the band’s lead singer and primary creative driving force) sells it by following the verse with a delicate and sparsely accompanied “Where would I kiss you/If I could kiss you?”. Nothing about the song is flashy in any sense of the word, but it succeeds precisely because it doesn’t try to be profound. It’s honest. It’s human.

This humanity carries over to the more introspective pieces, most notably on “Embody”, which opens with a guitar tone straight out of a late-80s dream pop album before switching to a brief solo a cappella section, where Kline croons, “Someday in bravery/I’ll embody all grace and lightness”. As the song goes on, she expands the scope of the assertion, lovingly describing how others in her life “embody all grace and lightness”. The track is such a gorgeous monument to friendship because in the midst of the flowery wording, her genuine affection shines through, without a hint of artifice or emotional pandering. It doesn’t hurt that it’s got one of the best melodies on the album, either, and that’s saying something; everything on this record sounds so pleasant, to the point that the few profanities present in the lyrics almost feel out of place (they’re too isolated to be a part of the vernacular, and too integrated to serve as gut punches). Even at her most lyrically mournful (“I’m 20” is a midlife crisis song for people too young to have one), Greta Kline’s voice is consistently easy on the ears, adding an extra dimension to the sweeping prettiness.

When I compared Next Thing to a half-hour conversation earlier, I wasn’t being arbitrary with the duration; this album really is only 29 minutes long, and none of the 15 tracks last longer than three minutes. As a result, some of the songs simply don’t have enough time to fully blossom, and the longest track, “Too Dark”, which pads its length by slowing the tempo down at the end of each verse, feels like it plods more than it probably would on a more traditionally-paced album. At times, the brevity of the tracks is perfect (the opening track, “Floated In”, manages to fit a memorable verse, chorus, and instrumental progression in under 90 seconds), but it’s often frustrating when a song feels like it could have easily done more with what it had. Some of the album’s quirks start to grate after a while, too; the way Kline sings the word “sinister” on the track of the same name is a little affected for my taste, and some lyrics are a bit too charming (the opening lines of “Outside with the Cuties” are a particularly saccharine example).

However, I’m positive that a substantial amount of the people reading this review are going to love the exact idiosyncrasies I just criticized. And I’m also positive that some of the little touches I loved are going to ring false for those same people. This album isn’t particularly conducive to objective criticism, but it does readily invite individual reactions. One thing’s for certain: Next Thing truly is beautiful, if a little too slight to be counted among the greats in its genre. It doesn’t seem to strive for that type of greatness, though. It’s content to revel in purely being, basking in its own breathless embodiment of grace and lightness. B PLUS