First things first: The real best album to come out today is Sleigh Bells’ Reign Of Terror, a sophomore album that does everything sophomore albums are supposed to do. It deepens and widens the ferocious assault that Sleigh Bells first introduced on Treats, losing some of that album’s madcap intensity but adding new tricks and sounds and ideas, prettifying that head-rush noise while still pouring on the furious energy. But we ran our Premature Evaluation on Reign Of Terror last week, and you probably don’t need to read two separate Stereogum pieces about why that’s a good album. And so it falls to us to anoint another album with this column’s distinction, and fortunately there’s a close runner-up waiting in the wings. Frankie Rose’s Interstellar is another sophomore album, and it doesn’t actually do what sophomore albums are supposed to do. Instead, it does something riskier and more difficult: It sounds like the work of a completely new artist.
Frankie Rose had a cup of coffee in the Dum Dum Girls, but she’s best-known for longer stints in Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts, two bands that toyed around with the pop music of previous eras by infusing it with the sloppy murk of Brooklyn’s late-decade lo-fi aesthetic. Both of those bands had (and have) good songs, but neither one ever came close to transcending their influences. Rose’s previous solo album, recorded with backing band the Outs, works along similar lines, reflecting ’60s girl-group and garage-pop influences through the prism of the ’90s indie-pop that best resembles it. And in its way, Interstellar, credited simply to Rose herself, is just as much a pastiche as its predecessor. Some of the influences are even the same; there’s plenty of pillowy K Records guitar amid all the gossamer synths. But Interstellar is the first album that seems to belong entirely to Rose, the one where she puts those influences in service of a personal vision and comes up with something that nobody else is making right now.
Interstellar is basically a new-wave record, one that draws heavily on the Cure and New Order, as well as their more diffuse contemporaries like the Cocteau Twins and the Church. But it’s not built from major keys and big melodies. If it had come out in the late-’80s or early-’90s, it wouldn’t be fighting those records for modern-rock radio play. Instead, it’s smaller and softer, just as catchy but less eager to be noticed. Rose’s multitracked harmonies may be the most remarkable thing here; they make every song sound like it’s coming from some impossible-to-place wispy memory. On a spun-out fantasia like “Apples For The Sun,” which sounds like what might happen if Julianna Barwick ever tried to write a pop song, they can be revelatory. But when they’re wrapping themselves around a driving bassline like the one on “Moon In My Mind,” they’re just as effective.
All the sounds on Interstellar are simply gorgeous. The synths ripple and glimmer like pondwater in starlight; they’re some of the most perfectly recorded keyboards you’re likely to hear anywhere these days. And the album’s more organic elements, its guitars and strings and drums, are just as crystalline. No instrument ever takes the lead even on the simplest song; instead, everything dissolves together in ways that would’ve made the old 4AD engineers proud. But Rose still favors simple, direct songs like the excellent first single “Know Me,” so all these pretty sounds aren’t ends unto themselves. They’re there to make the songs work, and that’s exactly what they do. Interstellar might not feel fresh and of-the-moment the way Reign Of Terror does, but it’s a perfectly-executed indie-pop album from an artist whose scope is increasing all the time and who knows exactly what she’s doing. It’s a keeper.
Other albums of interest out today:
• Sleigh Bells’ Reign Of Terror, obviously.
• Grimes’ giddily haunted experimental pop album Visions.
• Pontiak’s thoughtful, triumphant stoner-rock LP Echo Ono.
• Perfume Genius’s gorgeously placid Put Your Back N 2 It.
• Lambchop’s weathered, plainspoken country-soul opus Mr. M.
• Cursive’s ambitiously skronky concept album I Am Gemini.