Frankie Rose’s debut Interstellar was an absolute masterpiece. It reminded people that being a confessional songwriter means a lot of people consider you their best friend, even if no real secrets were told on that effort. In my opinion, it’s the best album of the last three or four years. She asked a lot of questions on that album, and answers were surrounded by slabs of awkward beauty. It was a dichotomy of simple pleasures colliding with aspirations of a search for deeper meaning in those little moments. Interstellar was one of the very few albums that could accurately be described as ethereal. It was a visceral odyssey into a strange and beautiful place. I’ve often tried to explain the record to people, only to fail, and just implore them to buy it.
So where do you go after throwing something so amazing into the world out of absolutely nowhere? Herein Wild, Rose was left with a choice: create a new world from scratch like her last album or take us on another tour of this alternate universe we loved so much the first time around. Rose elects the latter, as Herein Wild is more of a sequel than spark from nothingness, like Interstellar was.
She has her own ingenious ways of writing an album. Herein Wild is more sublime and less patient than one might expect. In fact there are moments here that almost could represent a foray into FM radio territory, like “Sorrow” for example, which eschewed nearly all of the quirkiness seen in the past, and focuses almost completely on the beauty Rose is capable of. Of course FM androids would never get behind a song like this. Even though the beauty is raw and unfiltered, it’s not calculated enough to get any sort of mainstream play. More than anything, Herein Wild narrows its focus and everything is made more clear to the listener. Strings aren’t buried, they’re allowed to breathe and even dictate the music in some cases. Synth lines are skinny and oftentimes more orchestral than anything. Everything on Herein Wild is meant to be heard and embraced, nothing is entombed.
Nobody would ever accuse Frankie of being a realist. Even the odd time when she gets confessional in a literal sense, the surrounding music tends to encircle those admissions with a sonic cloak that never mutes her words but puts them in a bizarrely contextual place. That is to say, she’s never afraid to step back and confidently allow her songwriting to say things she would never be able to truly vocalize (or want to). This is one of her chief strengths and an extremely rare trait. Herein Wild emerges from a beautiful, relatable place, but more of its moments emerge from stone-cold, concrete reality than previously seen. A proper way to describe this record would be looking back through a rear view mirror, but everything is blurred by speed. So what we’re left with is a version of life seen by Frankie. And she tends to allow everything to be fragmented into a temporary society she meticulously creates. Like its predecessor, Herein Wild is a utopia. And also like that brilliant first album, cracks in this utopian world are showing, but here she’s working to board them up and not afraid to let you hear the defiant sound of the nails being pounded into the makeshift wall. She’s barricading herself in, but also urgently inviting you inside in the process.
But all is not well. Frankie is not noticeably uncomfortable when she plays more user-friendly tunes like “Sorrow” or “Into Blue”, the latter an obvious sequel to “Night Swim”, but more of the music works when everything gets brought down to a crawl and she’s forced to ditch her pop/punk roots. “Cliffs as High” is a primo example of this. Mostly just a backing piano track and some symphonic components, but it’s completely engrossing to hear Rose be trapped in some vertigo limbo. She’s lucidly trying to make sense of everything while free-falling. Much like Velvet Underground’s “Jesus”, the simplicity is the confounding part.
If there is a flaw on Herein Wild, it’s the inner conflict Rose seems to now be facing. Surrender to the beauty she’s so effortlessly capable of, or push herself into more raw, desolate territory? It’s not torn apart at the seams. But the journey we’re on seems forcefully upbeat at times. It’s like the tour guide is detailing a doom-filled description of surroundings that are gorgeous and effervescent to everyone paying for the tour. We’re all trying to figure out which one is on the up and up, the voice or everything we lay our eyes on.
And then at the end of the album, like on Interstellar, everything rapidly makes sense, specifically the last two tracks. “Moon In My Mind” produced an unexpected foray into the universal abyss that consists mostly of the sad realization that most of us (or the people in Frankie’s world) have a choice in terms of how much pain they want to subject themselves to. The choice isn’t really acknowledged or made aware of, so the default option is selected. And “The Fall” was a beautiful, corroded dream. The best closer I’ve heard in years (maybe ever actually) and a too-little-too-late situation that sees her trying desperately to catch her reality up to the world she has created for us. And failing, spectacularly. It’s more than just amazing. It was an elemental place of judgement hurled onto herself. And allowing us all to lay down with her as this comprehension occurred at an unforgiving rate.
Same thing on Herein Wild. The last two songs are the strongest and find Rose screaming from the sky—in her own way. “Street of Dreams” is a curdling confrontation with one’s desires and crystal-ball thoughts. Finally, Frankie cops to a desire to take us to places we may not want to go. She should be more okay with this. She’s very good at this. “Requiem” is another just unbelievably amazing closer. The come-close-keep-your-distance aesthetic Rose has built so imperviously since Interstellar has now been shattered, crushed. Everything is resynthesized. Pain is accepted and transcended. Not placed on the listener. Not placed on Frankie either. Just sort of aimlessly floating around, allowing us to grab it if we feel the need. Herein Wild is constructed on paradoxes, and more than anything “Requiem” promises community. Something has to give on her next effort. We’re just not sure what. For the time being, Herein Wild skies above us and we owe it to ourselves to try and give it a reach and let us take it wherever it wants to take us.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.
// Notes from the Road
"Co-presented by the World Music Institute, the 92Y hosted a rare and mesmerizing performance from India's violin virtuoso L. Subramaniam.READ the article