Herein Wild sounds so far away from itself. I don’t just mean in terms of production, although Frankie Rose has certainly kept up her flair for the spacious on her third album. I mean that it aligns itself with disparate themes and desires without working to create interesting tension between them. The album picks up on the orchestral threads that lay scattered inside her last album’s tapestry, but doesn’t let go of Rose’s punk roots. It wants to sneak over to a darker, more confessional space, but lingers inside Rose’s bubblegum sensibilities. On her Fat Possum debut, Frankie Rose starts to articulate new musical instincts, but doesn’t muscle up to realize them in full.
“The weirdos on this album are my favorites, and I would just love to do a complete, long, weird album that’s not just pop songs at some point,” said Rose in a recent interview with Pitchfork. She’s been taking in movie soundtracks, she said, dancing around the idea of making affective music that’s stranger, more instrumental, less pinned to pop structure. “If I went off and made some musical or soundtrack, nobody would be psyched. Even if that’s my wildest fantasy, I still have to make pop music,” she said.
That sense of duty to accessible melody and recognizable structure comes through on most songs on Herein Wild. “You for Me” starts with a bleed of synth and a garage rock punch that nods to Rose’s beginnings as a drummer for the rose-tinted pop punk outfits Dum Dum Girls, Crystal Stilts, and Vivian Girls. If Interstellar flirted with the danger of losing sight of the ground forever, this opening track bolts itself right back down to earth.
The rhythm section that runs through Herein Wild still owes itself to The Cure—or maybe to DIIV, or Beach House, or any other band that’s owed its palette to The Cure and Cocteau Twins recently. The dusty bass, wide drums, and thin synths that make up Rose’s primary colors feel like part of a nostalgic moment that’s stuck around past its welcome. Rose’s airy voice and knack for crafting lead melodies let Herein Wild wash down easy, but it’s an automatic, familiar kind of easy. It sounds like she’s happily sliding into the template of the moment without considering how to mutate it.
Songs like “Sorrow” weave darker lyrics into bubbly retro-pop, but the tension between content and form feels accidental, or maybe just inevitable. It doesn’t sound like Rose ever made the decision to start crafting acid lullabies, to hide her dark parts inside a sunny veneer. It sounds like she let her subject matter drift while sticking to the mode of songwriting in which she’s grown most comfortable.
But the album’s best moments point to where Rose would be heading if she didn’t “have” to make pop. “Street Dreams” finishes its spooky post-punk stomp with a colorful instrumental ditty that seems to dredge up muck from Tangerine Dream’s tar pits. “Cliffs As High” illustrates a recurring nightmare of falling off the edge of a cliff over strings, piano, and glockenspiel, making good use of the Lynchian trick of pushing past maudlin signifiers to an eerie, uncomfortable space.
Album closer “Requiem” takes a disarming look at a lonely future, at the prospect of dying alone: “When I am old, I’ll be alone again and soon/ Listening to my own voice by the sea/ I’ll be okay, I’ve killed those demons anyway/ And it’s so far away.” Rose’s voice floats above deep strums of acoustic guitar and the occasional horn flourish. There’s so much space in the echoes of the song that it feels like she’s already perched at the edge of the sea, at the edge of her life. “I’m afraid hell and heaven are the same,” Rose sings. “In the end things fall apart.” It’s not a bitter finish, just a quiet resignation. It straddles the line Herein Wild wants to straddle perfectly.
On Herein Wild, Rose sounds caught at a crossroads. The songs where she pays dues to her roots feel redundant, occasionally stagnant. The moments where she breaks from her comfort zone work beautifully as she strips away the pretense of pop to expose something more vulnerable, more uniquely her. Frankie Rose still has great instincts of where her music should be going. She just has to trust them more.
Essential Tracks: “Cliffs As High”, “Requiem”