, March 26th, 2012 08:23
Having lived through the Madchester era as a teenager, I can recall the rush of excitement as momentum gathered, a sound coalesced and a defining period – for better and worse - in pop culture unfurled before my eyes and ears. As a Mancunian, I was initially plumped with civic pride, but as the weeks and months passed the downsides to a 'music scene' slowly became evident. People began to dress in the same way and bands began to sound as if everything needed a loping beat and a flash of laddish psychedelia. The Madchester scene became insular and claustrophobic - things became a little bit too 'baggy'. With two decades of hindsight, it wasn't one of Manchester's most artistically expansive periods, even if it was a brilliant ride.
Frankie Rose knows a thing or two about music scenes. As a founder member of each of Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls and Crystal Stilts, she was a pivotal player in the Brooklyn-based, lo-fi garage rock scene which, like the Madchester affair, ensured a bolus of bands were heard outside their immediate Big Apple borough.
However, once a scene has taken root, many musicians find it incredibly hard to extricate themselves from the firm grip of association. For every successful reinvention, another artist fails to disentangle themselves from an audience expectation to create a certain type of music. Since leaving Vivian Girls in 2008, Frankie Rose had taken a number of small but steady steps to distance her new music from that of her previous bands'. Her 2010 debut solo album, Frankie Rose And The Outs, began the process, but it is only on Interstellar do we get any real insight as to where Frankie has reset her sonic sightlines.
Recently, I interviewed Frankie for The Line Of Best Fit. Having decoupled from The Outs (who were merely her "live touring band"), Frankie told me that her intention for Interstellar was to make a "cinematic record that was almost like a soundtrack." Certainly, much of the new album feels bigger in scope than her debut effort. Key to the stylistic change is Frankie's choice of producer. Le Chev is best known for his remixing work, having made his mark on tracks by Passion Pit and Lemonade, as well as Frankie's own 'Candy'. Frankie admitted that they "shared no musical references – I grew up listening to Crass and he grew up listening to R Kelly."
However, the pair bonded over Rose's desire to fill her new songs with synthesizers. "The music that I listen to is really synth-heavy, but I had just never had the opportunity to learn about them," she told me. The effect on Interstellar is profound and allows Frankie to paint her 'cinematic soundscape'. From the shimmer of the opening title track it is clear that any notion of the lo-fi, reverb-drowned sound of her previous incarnations has been respectfully retired and, thus, sets the tone for an expansive and exquisite set of songs.
Not that the sonic mood-setting has arrested Frankie's ability to nail down a melody. 'Know Me' is three minutes of heavenly bubblegum-pop laced with an electronic sheen, while 'Night Swim' is a graceful Spector-ish gallop for the Roland generation. Even better is 'Had We Had It' in which Frankie's distant vocal creates a gorgeous hymnal dirge, while 'Night Swim' is the happy marriage of a piercing synth line and Rose's slashing guitar.
However, the standout track on Interstellar is 'Pair Of Wings' which is, in fact, a reconstructed song taken from Rose's very first band. Over a beautifully maudlin melody, Frankie sings "All that I want is a pair of wings to fly / Into the blue of a wide-open sky / Show me your scars and I'll show you mine / Perched above the city on a pair of power lines." I am aware of three people who on first hearing 'Pair Of Wings' were reduced to sobbing wrecks. I was one of them. It is almost perfect.
Interstellar has its weaknesses; 'Gospel/Grace' lacks the meat to land any emotional clout and the murmured atmospherics of the closing 'The Fall' are not as ethereal as they desperately want to be. However, as an album, Interstellar easily contains enough beauty to confirm that Frankie Rose is more than just the buzz-scene she once helped create and should provide lift-off into all manner of new sonic territories.