“The world is crumbling and I don’t have much to say,” sings Greta Kline, leader of the band Frankie Cosmos, on the band’s new album. It’s a striking admission in a time when everyone else seems to be playing pundit in their own teapot echo chamber. And despite specializing in gently drifty guitar-rock and singing with the kind of recessively reedy voice that usually implies a retreat into one’s interior biosphere, Klein isn’t an escapist, at least not always. “For what it’s worth,” she notes a couple songs later, “I wish I was the earth.” It turns out to be worth quite a bit. That dichotomy — between falling away from the world and wishing your way into transforming it — governs this excellent album, the best yet from an artist who’s spent the last few years on one of the more impressive songwriting binges in indie-pop.
Frankie Cosmos’ 2016 LP Next Thing had 16 songs and the 2018 Vessel had 18; Close it Quietly ticks up to 21. Kline’s craft can recall the brain-to-tape immediacy of Guided By Voices’ Robert Pollard or even Prince, while her wry naif whimsy evokes the entire twee canon, from the Left Banke and the Cyrcle to Jonathan Richman and Jad Fair; from K Records champs like Tiger Trap and the Softies to anti-folkies like the Moldy Peaches. Songs seem to spill out of Cosmos, built of compact, distracted strumming and her tense, dreamy voice, often clocking in at less then two minutes, as if Kline got an idea, chased it down in real-time and then moved on to the next one, leaving its possibilities fresh and unsolved in our mind, and hers. On Close It Quietly, the writing is especially crisp and catchy, a tumble of miniatures built out of worry and wonderment.
“I still like looking out windows,” she sings on “Windows,” the “still” doing solid work in the line, as if she’s taking a hard stand for inspired spacecases everywhere. That kind of revelation might lead to a wan folkie bauble, but the song is taught and tuneful, with drummer Luke Pyenson pushing the beat with elated snare drum tumbles like a cuddle-core Levon Helm, as Klein turns to larger concerns, singing “I want guidance, direction, even for just a second.” On “41st,” she jokes about her ravenous creativity — “do you wanna hear the 40 songs I wrote this year?” — then gives us the 41st: a lickity-split, serenely lovely reflection on a relationship’s amniotic stasis. “Ring (On A Tree)” appeared earlier this year on a short LP of solo piano pieces by Kline; here it becomes a full-band song with a herky-jerk guitar-drum pattern a la Felt or Orange Juice, the image of a falling tree leading to a nuanced meditation on a marriage barely averted, freighted with bitter memories, yet still full of discovery — accomplishing quite a bit musically and emotionally in just 1:45. Elsewhere Klein goes from acoustic fragments like “Self-Destruct” to softly rocking moments like the surprisingly heavy “I’m in” and the prim power pop of “Even Though I Knew.” On the a cappella “A Hit,” she offers what might be marketing copy for this album’s impressionistic pop idealism: “every song is a hit/If you pretend to understand it.”
In its length, quality, and economy, Close It Quietly can evoke tour de force sprees like Elvis Costello’s Get Happy! or Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville. Kline sings about some serious coming-of-age stuff here, but in the casual way of someone organizing their room, not getting lost in the pathways of their ennui. A line like “flowers don’t grow in an organized way, so why should I?,” which might come off as pretentious, seems funny thanks to her dry, self-aware bemusement. Lyrically, she speaks not so much for the voiceless but for those who can take or leave the very notion of having a voice in the first place, for every tender soul out there who’d rather stare at a metaphor-rich arrangement of fall branches than go to a party (even though, as Kline implies in “Marbles,” she’ll probably ends up going to the party anyway). “I am everyone you’ll never meet,” she tell us on “So Blue,” a song that suggests That Dog fronted by Emily Dickinson, and sums up all her richly contradictory impulses on “Last Season’s Treasures,” singing “I’m just fucking glad for my bubble,” then admitting “despite how often it is penetrated by evil.” Even in a crumbling world, she’s created her own sweet place apart.