Frankie Rose by any other name would sound as sweet. At times she’s been called “A member of the Vivian Girls,” at others “The drummer for the Dum Dum Girls,” and on occasion “The drummer for the Crystal Stilts.” With the release of her remarkable new album Interstellar, “Frankie Rose” will soon be all that is required to bring to mind both the gifted artist, and the sonic qualities with which her name is sure to become synonymous.
“All is hollow, all is hollow, think about the empty space…” The opening words intoned on Frankie Rose and The Outs, her first solo album, could be read as an indictment of the slap-dash throwback trends dominating much of indie-music in recent years, or as a personal epiphany manifesting as a new creative mantra. Frankie Rose and The Outs bares the same apparent affection for the Velvets, Phil Spector, Jesus And Mary Chain, and all stops between, that her past collaborators share, but with a different approach to utilizing the trademark nuances of each source of inspiration. The album displays a masterful flare for deconstruction and emphasis, with respect to well-worn influences, that offers a few glimpses of what’s to come on Interstellar. Frankie would reappear in 2011 on Stereogum Presents…Stroked: A Tribute To Is This It. Her take on “Soma” makes the already economic original by The Strokes seem practically maximal by comparison. In Frankie’s hands Soma becomes menacing, yet beautiful, as it swells to give the strong pop elements of the song room to breathe. Her decision to try “…taking out some of the garage elements,” a quote from the Stereogum liner-notes for the comp, is a symbolic turning-of-the-page on her previous work and an era of music enamored with wearing the past like a favorite pair of skinny-jeans.
I don’t mean to suggest that Interstellar is without influence or sonic precedent and, most importantly, that either is necessarily a bad thing. Interstellar is simply a shining example of what can happen when influences are artfully applied. Take for example the apparent embrace of Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker’s belief that cymbals demand too much sound-space. Without the steady presence of cymbals bridging the void between the low-end and the high-end there is a strong impression of the vocals floating and bouncing between distinct planes of sound. On the outstanding “Gospel/Grace” the low-end becomes a rumbling bed of tribal drums while the high-end is awash with nebulous synthesizer melodies and a piercing guitar riff with notes that rise and fall like jagged glacial peaks. Sometimes the drums and bass are in lockstep, like on “Night Swim,” with its krautrock’ish tempo driving the mix as the song hurls rippling guitars, wailing synths, and Frankie’s voice in every direction. Throughout the album the lyrics seem phonetically designed to allow Frankie to mimic with her vocals the attack, sustain, and decay of synthesizer keyboards. Interstellar is loaded with so many carefully crafted sonic touches that the general mood-over-substance approach to the songwriting is necessary so that, to paraphrase a song by the Peter, Paul And Mary, “The words don’t get in the way.” If given the choice between listening to someone try and explain a dream they had, or actually experiencing the dream first-hand, I’m sure most people would choose the latter; and that’s the itch that Interstellar aims to scratch. Transcendent atmospherics and studio-polish are not the only things that these songs have to offer. Songs like “Know Me” and “Daylight Sky” display considerable chops for writing new-wave pop gems, while “Had We Had It” and “Moon In My Mind” are the sort of tracks that could anchor the most critical scenes in a suspense filled movie like Drive.
Frankie enlisted the production skills of remixer/Fischerspooner collaborator Le Chev to help realize her vision. Though he is best known for his work with, Lemonade, Passion Pit, and Fischerspooner, it was perhaps his remix, and complete dismantling, of the song “Candy” from her debut album that gave Frankie the confidence that he was someone that could help her reach deeper and continue her transformation. The spirit of transformation is what really permeates Interstellar as it reminds us of other great artists who at key moments in their careers went into the studio determined to leave with something greater than the sum of what they entered with.
Some essential-listening from 2012 is waiting for you at Insound(vinyl), Amazon(cd/mp3), or wherever it is we people who still buy music go to get our fix.