While Frankie Cosmos architect Greta Kline had been touring with a backing band and recording with guest musicians for a few years before tracking 2018's Vessel, it's her first album to be released officially as a band. It's also the former bedroom project's debut for Sub Pop Records. These details seem to go hand in hand on Vessel, her most assertive-sounding set to date. It follows two other studio-made label releases that in turn followed dozens of home-recorded, self-released collections starting when Kline was in her teens. Approaching her mid-twenties here, she still affects with candid observation, open affection, self-doubt, and self-consciousness, but lyrics reveal moments of self-reliance as well. "When the heart gets too tender/Return it to the sender/Be more centered" precedes the band's entrance over a minute into the opener, "Caramelize." It's as if the drums, bass, and keyboards are helping to strengthen her resolve. The rest of the song continues in kind, as Kline passes through sparer moments of sentimentality and full-band determination. As on the prior studio albums, Kline's warm, half-spoken vocals and breathy high notes are balanced in the mix, always discernable even on punky entries like "Cafeteria" and "Being Alive." The latter was previously released in demo form and performed live for some time before it was finally recorded for the album. In the Vessel version, some of her bandmembers take turns singing on the track, namely keyboardist Lauren Martin and bassist David Maine, along with guest vocalist Anna McClellan. On a collection full of memorable tunes, it's an especially impactful one that uses thrashing drums, winding vocal harmonies, and shared sentiment to sweeten the message that, even when times are tough, being here "matters quite a bit." The record's emotional honesty seems to extend to false starts, count-offs, and studio laughter that also make the final edit. While the band's involvement, particularly more active drums, help the sound lean forward, Frankie Cosmos' essential musical qualities remain: hooky melodies, a disarming lyrical style, and impressive efficiency (Vessel's 18 tracks clock in at 33 minutes).
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson