Twee has always been both a charming style and a petty criticism. Though it started off describing British music akin to Belle & Sebastian, it began to take on more flavors that veered into the hyper-saccharine field: peter pan collars tucked under any top, teacups used for things besides tea, the tidy props of Wes Anderson films. It became too quaint, too dainty, too hyper-modern in a vintage setting. People began to eye-roll.
So came the jokes in music. Twee recordings prompted jabs about how the genre doesn’t require talent, how it’s easy to make, how it’s an age-old trade that bores. When applied to Frankie Cosmos, those appear valid. Greta Kline started as a bedroom artist; she once had over 40 releases on her Bandcamp; and she sings so soft it could lull you to sleep. On her sophomore studio album, Next Thing, she bats away those criticisms in the most graceful way: by embracing them. Twee isn’t synonymous with bedroom pop, nor is it a detractor from polished studio songs like those on her record. On Next Thing, Frankie Cosmos stands tall as an individual in a sea of bland lo-fi dudes, unfolding 15 songs in the palms of her hands that are endlessly re-playable.
The album brims with beautiful imagery painted in Kline’s distinct phrasing — a book read at a rest stop, sunlight hopping the subway turnstile, a pile of rocks stacked on a distant planet. Kline’s precise phrasing differentiates her songs from the rest. It’s all about eloquent colored pencils filling in curiosity in real time, even if curiosity is shaped like an elementary-style blob. “When you’re young/ You’re too young/ When you’re old/ You’re too old/ Too few ideas, or too many,” she sings on “What If”, consumed by contradictions and too honest to dress it up with literary prose. Then there’s the despondent opening of “Tour Good” (“I don’t know what I’m cut out for/ If there’s anything I have lived for”), an equally weighted sentiment followed by sharp scenes.
Frankie Cosmos solidifies her style by strengthening her voice. Next Thing gives short songs life, chasing the vibe of impromptu chirps thanks to cushioned, velvety delivery. In that way, songs barely over a minute long become richer than extravagant post-rock ballads. At times, her voice mimics the whispered delivery of The Cranberries; other times she utilizes ‘50s-style backing vocals, most notably on “Outside With the Cuties”. Small vocal gives the songs a timeless feel. Even when she’s coming to grips with aging on “I’m 20”, Kline drapes minor flickers of fear with rounded doos. “I’d sell my soul for a free pen/ On it the name of your corporation,” she sings. “If by some chance you know/ What is cool tell me how/ I want to be just how you would imagine me to.” Then those soft vocals turn into a chorus of ascending notes, stopping only to let an ‘80s-style synth interlude sprout outwards.
The subtleties stretch beyond the music and delivery. Kline sneakily refers to the inner members of her social circle, namedropping for the bigger picture rather than cred. When calling out Eskimeaux and Florist on “Embody” (“It’s Sunday night/ And my friends are friends with my friends/ … Florist signs are everywhere/ Emily is in the air/ On tour with Gaby”), Kline uses frontwomen Gabrielle Smith and Emily Sprague as symbols for aspirational grace and lightness through human bonding. On “Sinister”, she comes to grips with growing up once again, feeling an intense desire to stay strong and positive like Arthur Russell — an artist the now-defunct Krill introduced her to. For Frankie Cosmos, namedropping isn’t about establishing social status. These are notes and names taken straight out of a journal in an effort to understand her place in the world.
Kline just turned 21. In the years that follow, the shiny wrapping paper that makes adulthood so enticing is ripped off and the weight of that gift begins to weigh you down. In under 30 minutes, Next Thing proves that honesty can go a long way, and vulnerability, contrary to its temporariness, goes even longer. “Why would I kiss ya?/ If I could kiss ya?” she questions on “On the Lips”, placing love in the blurry confines of reality and how we’ve come to understand it. As she questions the depth and intent of relationships — romantic, platonic, or otherwise — Kline’s kind enough to let you watch while she pens another line in her journal, never once believing her own thoughts are original, but rather that they convey universal pain and happiness that shines when it finally recedes. She hinted at it on Fit Me In, but Next Thing is Kline actually finding her place at a time before the world hits her. Not only do you get to feel for her, but you get to relive that energy yourself — and remember why the rawness of twee is so endearing after all.
Essential tracks: “Outside With the Cuties”, “On the Lips”, and “Embody”