As a member of Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls and Dum Dum Girls, as well as the leader of The Outs, Frankie Rose lived a life of reverb, garage fetishism and retro cool. And by and large, with any of the best garage-pop songs to emerge in an explosion of like-minded acts in the past few years, Rose’s writing or performing credit was most likely to be found. But the Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter has more than covered those bases, having since moved on to more expansive territory, shedding the fuzzy, lo-fi aesthetic on Interstellar and, instead, embracing a crisper, brighter dream pop sound.
The first clue that Interstellar, Rose’s first solo album, is a journey on an entirely new path lies within the name. There’s a spacious, astral aesthetic at play here, Rose’s voice frequently surrounded by glimmering layers of chorus and delay, the atmosphere twinkling and glowing like stars in a distant sky. At times, the miasmic ambience gives off a very vivid sensation of floating, a handful of tracks even doing away with percussion for the sake of allowing the songs an even more palpable weightlessness. In fact, the album almost literally takes off within the opening title track, its keyboard drones gathering like primordial chemicals that end up crashing in their own magnificent fuzz-pop Big Bang shortly after the one-minute mark.
After a triumphant arrival such as that of “Interstellar,” attempting to a similar kind of bombast would prove difficult, though an introduction of that caliber is best left to stand on its own. The other nine songs on Interstellar may not explode with the same kind of drama, but Rose’s songwriting and note-perfect performances are top notch throughout, from the synth-heavy post-punk bliss of “Know Me” to the hypnotic buzz and jangle of “Gospel/Grace.”
Though much of Interstellar looks beyond Rose’s past work toward headier and more massive sonic ideals, some of the album’s brightest moments serve as more polished and nuanced updates to the noise pop she’s done so well in recent years. The pulsing “Night Swim” shimmers with dark energy, honing in on a similar vibe to her work with Crystal Stilts, but bearing the intensity of Joy Division’s best singles, as well as some of the best vocal harmonies on the album. Rose dives back into the reverb for the haunting “Apples for the Sun,” which is built around a simple three-chord piano progression. And the combination of surf-inspired riffs and sinister, post-punk bass on “Moon In My Mind” achieves a mastery of aesthetic cool that’s simply breathtaking.
No doubt, Frankie Rose’s résumé boasts a lot of high profile positions, but with Interstellar, she’s allowed that talent and experience to be catalyzed into something magnificent. It’s an album that gleams with streamlined ethereality, but carries with it an intriguingly dark undercurrent. At only 32 minutes long, Interstellar may not seem so complex on the surface, but there are a lot of ideas wrapped up in each song that a few listens may be necessary to fully take in its scope. It didn’t take long for her to make the transition, but as cool as Frankie Rose sounded in the garage, it’s not adequate enough a venue to contain something this cosmic.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.