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Frankie Rose - Interstellar

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Artist: Frankie Rose

Album: Interstellar

Label: Slumberland

Review date: Mar. 28, 2012

Frankie Rose’s change in program is certainly not subtle. Interstellar closes the door firmly on the basement and moves the operation to … well, just look at the title. And (if you had any doubts) the titular track confirms it, with Rose’s first words: “Moving swiftly on the interstellar highway.”

It’s an introduction—and certainly a jolt—that is meant to clearly mark a break between her past work, the tendencies of related female-driven bands, and the general direction of the indie rock scene in which she’s been operating. The bluntest way to put it is that she’s switched camps from Black Tambourine to The Cure. Primarily, it’s a rejection of addition through distortion. The fuzz is gone, and the chaos that goes with it. No more waves of sonic corruption rolling at you, a la Vivian Girls. And no Sleigh Bells-style offense, either. Rose never descends into the fray, always choosing instead to rise above it. Maybe too far.

Overall, Rose has reduced the threat level on this album. Guitar chords have been dismantled to focus on stringy sequences of single notes. Throaty lower octaves have been jettisoned for the ameliorative effects of the top range. The tendencies that led to a convincing Linda Ronstadt cover have been abandoned for a better approximation of “This Charming Man.” Most closely, it resembles the shift Cold Cave made from downstairs dance music to slick club production, or Blank Dogs’ similar mellowing.

That’s a lot of time spent defining what Interstellar is and isn’t. And it could go on. I haven’t said word one about its relation to early Cut Copy or how it rejects the vacuous nature of the slacker wavers or M83. It’s important, though, because to call this new phase unexpected is an understatement.

It also takes some acclimation. One of the biggest effects of mimicking space broadcasts is that the distance makes each hit feel weak. The omnipresent drum machine here barely punctuates the beat at times, operating on the opposite side of the spectrum of vicious machinists from Steve Albini to Zola Jesus. And her voice, despite a customary reverberation that adds layer upon layer, feels like it’s barely in the same room. Rose creates distance and then refuses to fill it up, which only serves to further accentuate just how wide the gap truly is.

So, how to make sense of what’s going on, especially at such an unexpected frontier? Tallied up, the hits and the misses are about equal. But it would be unfair to describe Interstellar as middling. What the misses lack is not quality but a strong sense of self in terms of songcraft. “Had We Had It” and “Moon In My Mind” operate more as connective tissue through constant meditative loops. Which is not to say that a lack of form is even necessarily a problem. Take “Pair of Wings,” a sublimely amorphous expression of sentimentality. She takes the same three verses and spirals them further and further up, the song’s machinery manufacturing deeply resonant sounds from an entire range a priori. It’s a cadavre exquis that Rose builds herself each time she plaintively says, “Show me your scars / I’ll show you mine,” convincing you to drink the wine before the whole thing fades back into the transience from which it was born.

“Pair of Wings” is Rose operating at the edge of her own Kármán line. But she can still pull together more traditional songs that hit with the same resonance. “Know Me” and “The Fall” are the best examples, drawn from two sides of the same coin. The idiom in which “Know Me” functions is immediately obvious. The echoes of Robert Smith and Morrissey amplify from intro to verse to chorus to bridge on this sub-three minute encapsulation of the lead 1980s mode of emotional submersion. “The Fall” similarly relies on harnessing a quick-moving guitar line, but never gets it under control, instead letting it jet off into unknown territories, where it picks up a set of phenomenal cello lines that rumble out of the deep. It’s a deeply haunting song that is a vessel for burden and catharsis. Frankie Rose comes to it with her own meditations, but leaves room for you to hitch a ride yourself. It’s transportive, Rose’s greatest feat on Interstellar. Even if the direction was out of the blue.

By Evan Hanlon

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