Published Mar 30, 2016On 2014's Zentropy, New York songwriter Frankie Cosmos (aka Greta Kline) brought her cozy, poignant pop nuggets out of the bedroom — literally; most of her Bandcamp releases contained sounds that seeped into her apartment windows from the New York streets outside — and into the studio for the first time. At the time, I raved that the record was "a painstaking portrait of internet-era isolation and love (both of the self and others) with a potent mix of intelligence, world-weariness and musicality." I stand by that assertion and, obviously, Kline hasn't lost her ability to write songs since then, but there's something tentative about Next Thing that makes it harder to attach to emotionally.
On Zentropy, Cosmos took a handful of pre-written, unpolished songs, stripped them to their emotional essence and recorded them (along with a few newly written ones) with purpose and sonic clarity; the result was stark and brave, an ambitious step forward for an artist whose reputation was built on scrappy, lo-fi songs she recorded at a pace of almost an album a month. By contrast, Next Thing feels like a lateral step; "Sleep Song," which had an acidic drawl to it on the previously released Quick Songs, is driven here by a bouncy, indie pop arrangement that robs the lyric "I guess I just make myself the victim like you say" of its sharpness, while the tinny organ solo halfway through "I'm 20" make it sound chintzy. It's almost enough to make one lament Cosmos's decision to record in a studio — why bother upgrading if the sound doesn't enhance the songs' emotional meaning?
That's not to suggest that Next Thing doesn't have its moments. The gorgeous strings on the updated "Embody" swirl around Cosmos as she reminisces about her friends' "grace and lightness" but never crowd the song, and "Sappho" has one of the best choruses on the album, emphasized by a slowed-down tempo and slab of guitar crunch that add weight to the song's sense of melancholy. They're perfect examples of how Cosmos can use the studio to her advantage, but unfortunately, they're too rare here. As a result, Next Thing is more likeable than moving, neither as intimate as her strongest bedroom recordings nor as revelatory as Zentropy. (Bayonet)