Frankie Rose, who the heavens do you think you are? Admirably, though stupidly, averse to the gravy train, you quit the Crystal Stilts and you abandoned the Girls Dum Dum and Vivian to record one of the best thin-air albums of 2010, Frankie Rose and the Outs. You then offered the only decent cover track, that of “Soma”, on the Strokes tribute record, only to claim about-face that you’ve never even really listened to the band, which everyone knows is a lie – you being a resident of New York City and all. Your flightiness, convenient defiance and ever-lingering presence in American music have made you a genuine enigma. And now you have another record, one that nebulously wreaks of Enigma.
How Rose has sustained her presence thus far, though not very surprising, is certainly peculiar: being a bit player in a slew of large national acts can only take a person so far before audiences and the elite start to wonder whether she has something to offer of her own, and her solo work up to now has drifted gracefully under most listeners’ radars. Yet here she is again, confidently backed by Slumberland Records, an entity that seems to have a good bit of faith in her solo prowess. And with the air of whimsical confidence Rose has brought to each of her endeavors once again evident on Interstellar, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Slumberland may have something of a budding genius on its hands; though hinting at it two years ago, Rose has now proven herself a casual dabbler able to go all in.
The record is a fun little anomaly of panache parading under substance yet devoid of pretension: it possesses a force capable of hooking a listener onto one pristinely harmonized vocal melody in the opening title track (the specter of which infects every subsequent high moment of the album), but it refuses to allow anything beneath that melody to be mistaken for profundity. After ninety difficult and lumbered seconds, just as the listener, now fully aware of Frankie Rose’s potential self-importance, is ready to either surrender to the prospect of weathering an entire LP of unneeded Julee Cruise retreads or eject the goddamn record altogether, drums and bass of the most economic kind (tom and two-note) deviously – and jubilantly – steer the tone in a more practicable direction.
At its core, Interstellar is an old-fashioned pop record and nothing more (and thank God). But in that caveat is the revelation that Rose has the talent to let her work lie vulnerable in places where many others wouldn’t dare. On tracks like “Gospel/Grace”, she displays a vocal faculty to rhapsodize with absolutely nothing to say, and among a sweeping vista of aqueous bass and Mellotron on “Had We Had It”, she repeatedly warbles a solitary nostalgia-ridden line of written word. In the hands of someone with a less than singular vision, Interstellar would be chided for going so new age, or for weaving stylishly sugary lyrical melodies made of virtually no underlying substance; but Frankie Rose is succinct and pointed in her desire to craft works of opulent pop, and it’s comforting.
Even with a production sheen offered by Le Chev that sees Rose ditching the baroque tendencies of her Outs days in favor of textures noticeably more grandiose, nothing about Interstellar feels unnecessarily epic because she tempers the numerous sinewy, emotionally manipulative lady-in-front numbers with a nucleus of catchy hooks, accessible rhythms and sparkling guitars – the kinds of elements that make single “Know Me” truly the choice cut of the record. In a dichotomy of musical command and brazen catchiness, Rose’s recorded work complements her inherently contradictory persona – of a woman so keenly aware of what she aims to do and executing it so flawlessly while lackadaisically willing to describe it as sounding “like Sade or something”.