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Key Tracks: "Interstellar," "Gospel/Grace," "Daylight Sky"
Solo careers are difficult to pull off almost from the get-go. Conventional knowledge has it that albums conceived by one person are never as good as band albums, putting the weaknesses of its creator on display instead of minimizing them through group collaboration. Frankie Rose is a different case, however--being the drummer for her past bands Dum Dum Girls and Vivian Girls, she was never given much of a chance to shine musically, and her burgeoning output is proving that her talent stretches beyond pop-punk timekeeping.
Deciding to drop her backing band "the Outs" and take sole credit for this sophomore release, she continues with a soft, less rock-based sound than any band with which she was involved prior. Interstellar shows considerable growth in songwriting maturity, one that overcomes a fixation with the sound of shiny keyboard textures and uses them to the service of her songs rather than the other way around.
Nothing strays too far from the established template for celestial music, relying heavily on synthesizer washes and smooth vocals. The rhythm section is generally downplayed, and the guitar might as well be a keyboard. Mileage will inevitably vary depending on whether such "angelic" arrangements coincide with one's vision of ethereal beauty.
One promising step forward from Rose's debut is the greater emphasis on structure, creating more tightly knit tracks than the free-floating (and sometimes aimless) clouds of dreamy fluff of before. When combined with the near-absence of indie gimmicks, Interstellar comes off as nearly pure pop. Yet despite its highly manicured, radio-friendly feel, it still doesn't feel particularly calculated or commercial.
While she could never be accused of dishonesty, her sense of melody is a bit iffy. Perhaps leaning a bit too heavily on the airy atmosphere, she stays conservative with the hooks, trying to milk each one. Instrumental breaks go nowhere, suddenly jumping back to the chorus as if admitting their own failure and resulting in a sound that can't decide if it wants to be catchy or ambient.
Which is a shame, because the best songs on here already lay claim to heavenly pop grandeur. The leadoff title track creates an off-kilter feel with its heavy beat, transforming it into more than brainless dance music. "Know Me" points back to Rose's punk-tinged past, featuring a driving tempo and avoiding detours away from its main tune. "Gospel/Grace," with its vocal counterpoints, acts as a showcase for her consistently pretty singing. "Daylight Sky" uses a droning synthesizer sound to emulate a sunrise to cathartic effect.
Unfortunately, the album is front-loaded with these four, leaving the next six feeling a bit like a b-side collection: similar in style, but noticeably lesser in quality. "Pair of Wings" attempts to be some kind of electronic hymn, but the one repeated vocal line isn't quite worthy of being built to such epic proportions. "Had We Had It" has some nice harmonies in its chorus, but is otherwise just a twinkling, synthy soup. "Moon In My Mind" throws some guitar noodling on top of an unconvincing bassline. And so on.
While Interstellar does begin to drift after its first four tracks, every song shimmers with glossy studio perfectionism, impossible not to love in its synthetic gorgeousness. Real artistic innovation can only be found here in limited doses, but the polished shine appeals to the heart and makes up for this in spades. So ignore any brainy objections you might have to its safe, attractive varnish, and allow yourself the pleasure of dream pop confection.
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