The dog dies at the end. Might as well get that out of the way. The fuzzy little guy on the album cover was named Joe Joe and he was Greta Kline’s (AKA Frankie Cosmos) dog. He makes a few appearances on the album, each time Kline pining for his company. Yes this is a pretty depressing album. In the album’s minuscule run time Kline is obsessively self-conscious, discusses what art school does to the mind, and, of course, reminisces over Joe Joe. Perhaps the description comes off as a sad-sack indie release, but Kline is smart and witty enough to make Zentropy an excellent debut.
Kline knows that if these all of these songs were played straight the melancholy would be overwhelming so she inserts a few genuinely funny moments to offset the rest of the album’s feel. Over an adorable background Kline sings “I hate everybody in this town” and a cute chiming cymbal accompanies her upbeat declaration of disgust. She also later proclaims “This isn’t a party!” just when the drums break out into a danceable beat. Kline seems to have a bad track record with parties. She chastises her friends on “Birthday Song” for making such a big deal about it, saying “Just because I am a certain age/Doesn’t mean that I am any older/Than I was yesterday.” “Dancing” has Kline singing “If you really love me you will leave me alone/I wanna go dancing.”
Even with the few moments of humor Zentropy is a crushingly sad album. Part of it comes from the duality Kline brings to the album with her voice. She seems simultaneously younger and older than her 19 years. When she sings “My daddy is a fireman…/Today he is here/Tomorrow he’s gone,” she sounds like a kid, devastated but not fully understanding why her dad has left. Meanwhile when Kline discusses her mother on “Busses” she sounds just as sad, but older. “Look mom I’m hobbling through/I am gonna be a painter to,” she sings. The contrast between “Busses” and “Fireman” is the best example of the delicate and rare balance that Zentropy strikes. It melds the insecurities of childhood and adulthood, making an album swamped by the problems inherent to both ages. High school seniors and undeclared-major college students might feel more empathetic towards Kline’s work, but the structure behind her lyrics is great enough for those who land outside that demographic to find enjoyment as well. Along with bandmate Aaron Maine (frontman of the underrated indie group Porches, which Kline also plays in), Kline makes sound foundations for her stories. “Fireman” starts with a bluesy guitar riff only for the song to evolve into a twinkling and spacey piece, “Busses” contains the album’s best guitar work, and the drums quietly hold up most of the songs here. Maine and Kline’s chemistry is fantastic on the vocal end. “Owen” is one of the few songs here that really opens up and explodes in the chorus and Maine and Kline’s voices take on a near country twang as they rocket upward in energetic harmony.
For all the excellent detours it always comes back to the dog. The last two songs on the album are completely dedicated to Joe Joe. “My I Love You” might be the album’s most beautiful track, with strings backing up Kline’s rising, nearly cracking, voice as she repeats “Joe Joe” over and over again. And the appropriately titled ending “Sad” has mesmerizing marimba work and Kline’s final words are “I just want my dog back/Is that so much to ask/I wish that I could kiss his paws.” If it’s any consolation for Kline, Joe Joe would have loved the album.