The Anniversary

Zentropy Turns 10

Double Double Whammy
Double Double Whammy

By the time I started listening to Frankie Cosmos, she already had more than 30 albums. That was the case with most of the people who stumbled on the expansive songwriting world of Greta Kline, as I did late one night in my dorm room while procrastinating on finals. It was a few months before Zentropy came out, but the Frankie Cosmos experience did not slow down for a “proper” debut. In quick succession that fall of 2013, Kline had uploaded a series of albums — pure suburb, im sorry im hi lets go, DADDY COOL — which captured the tossed-off but deeply felt nature of her songs. Those were the tail-end of a stretch of releases that spanned years, lo-fi recordings that Kline made in her bedroom and quickly put online. The immediacy of it all was so exciting. I had landed myself square in the center of a budding mythology; Kline first started putting out songs as Ingrid Superstar (her Bandcamp URL still reflects this old name) when she was in high school. And then, at 19, her songs were an entire universe just waiting to be discovered, with recurring characters and repeated lines and thinly veiled portraits of people it felt like I knew.

I hadn’t yet moved to New York City when I first started listening to Kline’s songs, but I’d be there soon, and I’d see Frankie Cosmos perform more times than I can remember, at venues long gone (Silent Barn, Shea Stadium, DBTS) with too many people that I don’t talk to anymore. Her music was a salve — blaring in my headphones while I stumbled on the walk back from Myrtle-Broadway to where I lived off Myrtle-Wyckoff — and now it feels like a time capsule for an era of Brooklyn DIY that is somehow long gone. Looking at my iTunes play counts on some of these early albums is downright embarrassing — how’d I listen to “pure suburb” 39 times? As I’m writing this, I began tearing up to a random song called “you are” that I didn’t remember until it started and now seems like an old friend.

When Zentropy came out — 10 years ago today — Frankie Cosmos had started to get attention in the usual places. There she was in Interview magazine; a Pitchfork profile helped solidify Kline as someone worth paying attention to. She was poised as the voice of her generation, or at least a voice of a generation, if you will. “All your friends are drunk and wild/ All my friends are depressed,” she sings on Zentropy’s opening track. Kline’s music was an extension of the communities that sprung up on Tumblr and around Rookie magazine, confessional and tender-hearted.

At the time, Kline was synonymous with Frankie Cosmos, but she soon took comfort in the idea of being only one part of a band, and she would embrace that idea as she started to gain popularity, partially to provide distance and distinction from those that grew too attached to her. And there were certainly those who did. It was easy to get swept up in the lore surrounding Kline’s songs, blur the lines between person and persona. She wrote about what was going on in her life, and what was going on in her life at that moment was her relationship with Porches leader Aaron Maine, who started dating Kline when she was a teenager and he was in his 20s. They played in each other’s bands and wrote love songs about one another; Maine appeared in Frankie Cosmos songs as the character of Ronnie Ronaldo. They would eventually break up, but their relationship played an outsized role in the rise of Kline’s career, a novelty that both the press and fans latched onto.

A few years after Zentropy came out, Kline talked to me in the lead-up to her 2018 album Vessel, and she was extremely perceptive and candid about the burden of being in such a public relationship at such a young age. “Wait until you go through a breakup and while you’re going through the breakup, people are giving you fan art of you kissing your ex-boyfriend,” she recalled. It feels like the start of an unfortunate new era of extremely online fans becoming too intimately obsessed with indie rock musicians, something Kline’s peers like Mitski and Phoebe Bridgers (and the rest of boygenius) have had to reckon with.

And Kline is also indicative of another trend that would play out over the next decade. Though I didn’t know it when I first discovered her, it was soon well-known that she was the daughter of Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. Did she chart a path for the children of famous actors to get involved in indie rock? Maybe! I don’t want to derail this with a whole discussion on the intersection of privilege and the arts, but it does seem like Frankie Cosmos’ rise might have emboldened some to try their hand at the same type of career, to varying degrees of success. (I know it wasn’t the intention, but I can’t help but smirk at the “My daddy is a fireman and yours is an actress” line on “Art School” — kind of troll-y!) But Kline did at least try to put in the work — she booked her own shows in barely-legal DIY spaces and she didn’t come out of the gate with a big-budget PR firm like so many do nowadays. She was a nobody before she was marketed as a somebody. There was no expectation to the albums that she put out on Bandcamp; there couldn’t be because they were so low-stakes. She made simple songs that didn’t ask for much but gave a lot.

Zentropy came out on Double Double Whammy, the then-nascent label founded by LVL UP’s Dave Benton and Mike Caridi, whom Kline had befriended on her many trips up to the music scene that surrounded SUNY Purchase. It was the first time that Kline fleshed out her lo-fi recordings with a band on an album; most of the songs were already familiar to those who had pored over her catalog. They crackle with a ramshackle intimacy, Kline’s softspoken vocals sparking against instrumentation that’s nervy and sounds a little blown-out. Many of the songs were written in the wake of the death of Kline’s dog JoeJoe, who graces the album’s cover and is the focus of its best song, closing track “Sad 2,” which serves as a wrenching eulogy. “He was just a dog/ Now his body’s gone/ So what is left but me and my poem?” she sings, and later on: “Dad made the appointment/ To kill my best friend/ There goes my fear of death/ I just want my dog back/ Is that so much to ask?/ I wish that I could kiss his paws.”

Kline’s music is undoubtedly precocious, and it’s also endearingly earnest. She’s the type of girl buses splash with rain — “but I’m the kind of girl who doesn’t care,” she insists. She wants to go dancing in the public eye: “I try not to be pretentious, but I always get embarrassed.” There’s a purity to these songs, especially in this era, that is hard to capture in words, when you’re young but feel wise beyond your years, as one tends to. Adolescence is perpetually growing up but never quite getting to be a grown-up. Kline sings about that on another Zentropy standout, “Birthday Song”: “Just because I am a certain age/ Doesn’t mean that I am any older/ Than I was yesterday.” She stretches out her syllables and squishes them together in petulance: “I think how repulsive to you/ It must be when I refuse/ To do the things you want me to.”

The songs of Frankie Cosmos are easy to connect with; their relatability is part of the charm. And Kline’s ear for melody is so comforting; she turns the sort of thing you might hum while doing housework into songs that have real weight. In the decade since Zentropy, Kline has more firmly established Frankie Cosmos as a band. She’s put out a lot of songs — four more full-lengths worth, plus plenty of extras — and though her songwriting and life perspective has matured, she’s never really changed. In an early interview, Kline expressed admiration for “people who can write in the same voice for a long time but have each song be interesting and new.” Kline now lives up to that ideal. Over the years, her songs have become more intentional, but they’re still diaristic. And still, Zentropy feels special. It’s only 17 minutes, what could it really do? But it did a lot.

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