The best thing about Seattle’s beloved Sub Pop Records is that it’s not one thing. Sure it got its start doing the grunge thing, but look at the diversity of albums it has put out in 2018 alone. There’s been the terrifying apocalyptic beauty of Low’s Double Negative, the blistering post-punk return of Hot Snakes on Jericho Sirens, the stellar hip-hop funk of Knife Knights’ debut (1 Time Mirage), the another round of delightful wry rock bluster from Father John Misty (God’s Favorite Customer), and a live album by Sub Pop godfathers Mudhoney (LiE), just to name a few. But the best Sub Pop release of the year doubles as its most unassuming: Frankie Cosmos’ twee gem Vessel.
While the record marks the Sub Pop debut for Greta Kline’s lo-fi indie pop band, the über-prolific New York singer/songwriter has put out over 50 DIY releases via Bandcamp since 2009. The reps have helped Kline hone her poetic knack for weaving heady lyrical feelings with catchy soft-pop-rock instrumentation. Vessel doesn’t stick to any strict notions of song constructs, flowing through tunes that often eschew verse-chorus-verse formats or standard song lengths (more songs clock in at under a minute than over three minutes). The 24-year-old Kline’s lyricism manages to blend self-effacement, youthful confusion, and uncut sweet sincerity on existential downers like “Cafeteria” (“I wasn’t built for this world/I had sex once, now I’m dead”) or a heart-melting 30-second millennial love song about dead phones (“My Phone”). It’s the type of tender music that feels immediately personable to anyone who’s ever been a shy, unconfident kid.
Frankie Cosmos heads to The Neptune this Saturday, Nov. 10, for a sold out show with buzzworthy British indie act Kero Kero Bonito and San Francisco dream pop outfit Tanukichan. Before heading to town, we caught up with Kline to talk about teaming up with Sub Pop, song formats, and poetic lyrics vs. poetry.
Has your relationship with the songs from Vessel changed now that you’ve been touring it most of the year?
I think that they kind of change all the time to match whatever I’m feeling at the moment. Some of them can sort of mean a lot of things, and I can kind of project different feelings onto them day by day. Between making the album and putting it out, a lot of what I was going through when I was writing it definitely started to make sense to me.
Are there any songs you connect to more now than when you first put the album out?
There are songs that, when we first put out the record, I wasn’t looking forward to playing them. I was sort of hesitant for some reason about playing “Apathy” and “Caramelize” live, and now they’re my favorites to play live. I was just maybe nervous about them, and now that we’ve been touring with them for a while, they make sense to me now.
We really don’t have set lists. We sort of have a master list of all the songs, and then we pick out each night what we’re going to play.
What made working with Sub Pop the right fit for Vessel as opposed to the more DIY approach you’ve employed in the past?
I think Sub Pop has a really personable staff. It doesn’t feel like working with a big label. So I think that kind of matches our vibe because we are used to doing a lot of stuff ourselves. But at the same time, it’s really helpful to have a full team that’s devoted to all the different aspects of putting out a record because there are so many parts to it. So I think it was the right moment for us.
We hadn’t signed with Sub Pop when we started making the record. We’d been talking to them, but it wasn’t official when we were working on it. So we just made the album and sent it to them. They had no changes to make artistically, they just let us do what we wanted to do.
There’s no universal songwriting format and structure to the songs on Vessel. Is that an intentional move or something that just comes up organically?
Yeah, it’s sort of random. I don’t think about the format very much when I’m writing. The lyrics often come first. And then when I have the melodic parts, it’s usually more about which lyrics fit with which melodic parts rather than “then a chorus should happen” or “then a bridge should happen.” They sort of come together in their own weird ways.
Do you approach writing lyrics at all like writing poems? Some of the shorter tunes feel at times like little single-page poems.
Honestly, I kind of don’t think of song lyrics and poems as the same thing. I write poems also, and I think it’s pretty separate for me. Sometimes something I will write in a poem will make it into a song. But generally when I write a poem it’s much more visual for me, and when I’m writing words for songs it’s much more rhythmic, and I’m thinking about the way I’m going to sing it and the way that music is going to affect the words — what they mean and the way they sound. So I kind of keep them separate. Obviously, I think the lyrics are poetic, but I don’t necessarily think they’d make a good poem. [Laughs]
Frankie Cosmos and Kero Kero Bonito
Saturday, Nov. 10, at 9 p.m. | The Neptune | Sold Out