The nimbly crafted world of Frankie Cosmos is written like a children's book. From the characters—imaginary friends and animal grief, romantic Ronnie riding in on a stallion—to the language, marked by childish head-shaking and pouting, Zentropy, Frankie Cosmos's debut studio album, is whimsical and wide-eyed and colorful. Greta Kline, who has long been making music under pseudonyms like Ingrid Superstar and Frankie Cosmos from the confines of her bedroom, risks isolating listeners with her tendency to filter through adolescence, to sweeten rather than sharpen, to feel hard and fall hard. But it's in this tendency that Zentropy particularly shines, serving as a blithe reminder that delicious pain can be even more fulfilling when we remember it in retrospect.
On studio production alone, Zentropy seems to bring out a layer of Kline's Meyer lemon voice that is hidden on her nearly forty Bandcamp self-releases. Recorded at Business District Recording with Kline's partner Aaron Maine (of Porches.) and bassist Hunter Davidsohn, the record so carefully reworks some of the Cosmos's earlier efforts so that they ring out with a blend of K Records closeness and Françoise Hardy flirtation, the latter sounding like Kline's older sister. The revision of tracks as touching as “Leonie” and “Sad 2”, both which appear on Kline's Losing EP (released after her dog Joejoe was put down), is a prickly choice—they are pure by definition of their spareness—but the instrumental additions end up magnifying to a greater result. Imagine a variety show in the 50s; soft pastels and bubbles, a singular female figure in a chiffon dress, a horn section in velvet tuxes. An enormous ceramic pot with leafy ferns and cherry geraniums spilling over for decoration. All these simple touches are what add to the Frankie Cosmos allure, to Zentropy's height. Softly shaded additions like a marimba or a cello give the record cinematic nuance.
The persistent theme of Zentropy is longing, which Kline has deftly mastered in her short nineteen years. On “Owen”, she sings “I only dream of you, sometimes Elaiza too” and the listener need not wonder what Kline's dreams look like. As she sings on “Leonie”, with Maine's dual tenor vocals padding the softness with low-end, her imagination is glittery, warm. “I'm lonely / put pipe cleaner gold around me” is exactly how you'd imagine Kline in mourning or melancholy: eyes down, wreathed in golden pipe cleaners like an arts-and-crafts goddess. The tragedy in Zentropy is so often paneled with sweetness that it's more often sadder than one would expect. On the album's last track, a poignant tribute to Kline's dog Joejoe, she pleads “I just want my dog back / is that so much to ask?” Frankie Cosmos's universe is bursting with nostalgic pain, but Kline doesn't shy away from it—she walks into it.
Zentropy ends and disappears as swiftly as a box of Girl Scout Cookies: no imprints or traces are left, Kline's greatest accomplishment being melodies that linger like swept-up crumbs. The album, despite its tender subject matter, is unobtrusive. We could never feel as passionately for Kline's Ronnie, nor could we mourn as deeply for her Joejoe. But the golden lightness that emits from Zentropy is stunning. Adding in new instruments and building off some of Kline's best bedroom work has only granted her voice a greater dominance and her songwriting a bigger stage to project, and because Kline isn't one for showiness, it's unpretentious and approachable. When she playfully asks “What is coffee? What is wine?”, children's book curiosity rumbles, and the listener is torn between feeling too much and just letting it all go.