Frankie Cosmos is that lovably awkward friend we all wish we had. She’s down-to-earth, mopey, shy, and slyly hilarious. She’s also the artist behind one of 2014’s best albums, a refreshingly honest indie pop tour de force called Zentropy. In fact, Zentropy might just be my favorite record of the year.
In her one and only music video, for her song “Art School”, Frankie plays the part of a Justin Bieber obsessive. The video (which strikes a precise balance between funny and creepy) depicts Cosmos performing a number of gawky, uncoordinated dance moves in a bedroom plastered with Bieber memorabilia.
This image fits right in with her music. Listening to Zentropy‘s strikingly short 17 minutes is like taking a trip through the small, sheltered world of Frankie’s mind. The songs sound like they are coming straight from a teenage girl’s bedroom, with all of the insecurities, failures, and embarrassments that remain hallmarks of adolescent life. The world outside doesn’t really matter to Frankie Cosmos. Her mind is a galaxy of its own.
Did I mention that Frankie (whose real name is Greta Kline) has released more than 40 albums? While Zentropy is her official debut, Frankie’s Bandcamp page is overflowing with short, snappy albums. Most of her songs are less than two minutes long, and this is all the time she needs to express the simple, direct, and relatable emotions that define each track. The brevity of Frankie’s music is part of what drew me to her. I can listen to all of Zentropy in the time it takes me to walk to my off-campus 8:30. It’s the only thing that made me look forward to that class.
The songs on Zentropy are soft and slight, with a delicate indie feel. They mostly consist of lightly strummed guitar, a synthesizer or two, male harmony vocals to supplement Frankie’s aching lead, and some of the most indelibly catchy melodies put to tape this year. It’s somewhat of a concept album, but revealing the theme here would spoil the record for some of you. Just remember to bring the tissues, because the album closer, “Sad 2”, undeniably lives up to its name while tying the whole album together.
So what made this album my favorite of the year? Among all of the other great records of 2014, like the jerky electronic rock of St. Vincent, the abrasive underground rap of Run the Jewels 2, and the morose plucking of Sun Kil Moon’s Benji, Zentropy doesn’t immediately stand out as being a particularly grandiose and ambitious album. Of course, it doesn’t need to be, because what Zentropy lacks in scope it makes up for in intimacy.
For me, Zentropy acted as a quick fix for when I wanted to clear my head with a dose of melodic simplicity. But the more I returned to this strangely familiar world that Frankie presented on Zentropy, the more I noticed that things weren’t as simple as they seemed. There’s some real detail and intricacy to the way Frankie arranges her songs, and every element fits perfectly in place. The album’s high point, “Buses Splash with Rain”, will stand as one of my favorite songs of the year. I think it’s because of the way it switches from the soft, downhearted verses to the faster and anthemic chorus, while retaining a melancholy tinge: “But we are not young, and this isn’t a party.”
Listening to Zentropy is like getting to know a person, and that person is Frankie Cosmos. Whether or not the character of Frankie actually reflects Greta Kline’s genuine feelings and desires doesn’t matter. Her music is convincing enough to leave a full picture of a real, flawed, and complex human being in the listener’s mind. Frankie is the kind of person I would want to hang out with. It’s a shame that the only way I can do that is by listening to her albums. But hey, at least there are more than 40 opportunities for me to do just that.