It's almost like Frankie Rose has been planning this all along. The endless quitting and joining and quitting (she's drummed for Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts, and Dum-Dum Girls), that underwhelming, same-old-same-old first single from last year, her assertion that she chose her band members less for their technical skills than for their personalities: It's as if Rose wanted us to think this self-titled LP could be nothing more than a shallow, nothing-special vanity project.
And then come the sustained, quavering organ chords of album opener "Hollow Life," which sort of sounds like Grouper would sound if Liz Harris was a human being and not a woodland nymph. Here, Rose is singing things -- actually, genuinely singing things, not just flatly intoning them. Things like "all is hollow, all is hollow." (A condemnation of the Brooklyn music scene she's so deeply entrenched in? Maybe.) More telling is what the song ends with: a long, haunted moan that manages to tear through all the artifice and disaffection that's occasionally plagued her prior bands. From that early, unexpected peak, the rest of the album divides itself between Yo La Tengo-esque atmospherics and ecstatic, unabashed noise pop. The album's best moments fall in the latter category, but a love and talent for harmonies and light pop noise suffuse each track.
The album shows that, 20 years on, Slumberland Records still signs artists that perfectly fit its long-established aesthetic. Like labelmates The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Frankie Rose and the Outs succeed in raiding their labels' back catalog and actually improving on it. A song like "Girlfriend Island," for example, makes you realize how much better a canonical band like Black Tambourine could've been with higher production values and a way with harmonies. That track, like nearly every other track on the record, exhibits near-Best Coast levels of dependency: "Hold my hand, you know how it makes me feel better," "I can't be alone" on "Little Brown Haired Girls." But these songs boast arrangements and production values that, quite frankly, make that band's Bethany Consetino sound a little silly.
Given Rose's track record, it's entirely possible that this will be the last Frankie Rose and the Outs record. One can only hope that Rose'll decide to stick with this one, as on this album she proves herself as something more (way more, in fact) than an eternal scenester and competent drummer. "Don't tread lightly," she sings on the album's penultimate track -- before closing her big debut album with four minutes of slow-building noise that ultimately doesn't go anywhere. But it's easy to forget that this is a debut, and that Frankie Rose -- if she's capable of staying in one place for more than a few months -- might just have the rest of her life to make something truly lasting.