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Frankie Cosmos - Haunted Items Music Album Reviews

Four short EPs from Greta Kline feature the singer-songwriter at a piano singing her detailed and deeply felt songs with newfound conviction.

The objects in Greta Kline’s songs are like signposts along a winding road, underscoring the quotidian intimacy that has become the hallmark of her prolific output as Frankie Cosmos. Her beloved dog JoJo, taxidermied in a museum; a Sappho book read by an anonymous lover, observed through a bedroom window. For her latest project, a series of EPs entitled Haunted Items, Kline takes inspiration from the way objects can contain tiny emotional universes, permeated by the contexts surrounding their existence.

Frankie Cosmos songs often feel haunted—they appear on early albums quiet and dusted with tape hiss, and reappear later, more fully formed. Haunted Items, by contrast, has not played out in the public eye because Kline originally wrote them for piano, an instrument she did not know how to record, even in demo form. Instead, these tracks reverberated in her head, an affectation that plays out in the small rhymes and repetitions that punctuate the EPs. One can picture Kline sitting at the piano or on a tour bus repeating the intro to “Eternal,” a strangely hypnotic track towards the middle of the collection: “Nothing is ever nothing/Everything is everything/Inside of part of everything is nothing.” What could otherwise be a stoner platitude is delivered so earnestly it nearly makes the sentiment feel new again. It is, like the best Frankie Cosmos songs, imbued with an optimistic sense of wonder, a manifestation of what she has called her “mantra”: “Isn’t it crazy that I have feelings and exist?”

The piano was Kline’s first instrument, though she found recitals too anxiety-inducing and eventually took up the guitar. But on Haunted Items, the piano feels like a natural companion that brings you closer to the writing process. On the simple and sweet “Rings on a Tree,” she plunks out a bright chord progression with one hand, as her vocals play the role of the second hand. On “Allowed,” a dissonant minor key helps establish the playfully dark tone of the song, letting Kline’s distinctive lyricism set the rest of the scene: “You are just a scary bug/You can’t hurt me.” It feels a bit like a puppet show put on in a basement, a series of short ditties sung with the conviction of a Broadway musical.

Her voice, always a step or two away from breaking in higher octaves, is quiet but firm, filled with the charming eccentricities that often make Kline seem more like a friend playing songs in her bedroom. She occasionally clips her “g’s,” like on “String,” a song about struggling to maintain a facade while on the verge of an emotional breakdown: “No one’s ever noticin’/The way that I am balancin’.” It lends a closeness, even a kind of everydayness, to ideas that are scary or larger than life.

But despite the intimacy in these EPs—a clear step back from the fast-and-loud approach she adopted on last year’s Vessel—there is a distinctive boldness in Kline’s verses. The nihilism and despondency once commonplace in her lyrics are replaced here with a newfound resilience. If she was once framed as a despondent wallflower, this album begins to recast her as someone wise from heartbreak and loneliness. On “In the World,” Kline finally takes the space she wanted on 2014’s Zentropy, exploring the kind of rebirth that can happen after leaving an all-consuming relationship: “A day goes by that I don’t think of you,” she sings, a line to be scribbled into notebooks by lovelorn teens the world over.

Kline’s lyrics have always had an uncanny ability to sneak up on the listener; the “wow” moment often comes long after the song ends. On Haunted Items, this happened for me on “Tunnel”: “And baby I got hair now that’s never even heard of you,” she sings plainly. It only took 53 albums or so, but Greta Kline has finally turned her acerbic wit on someone other than herself. In the hushed tones of bedroom pop, it is a veritable mic drop.

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