When former Dum Dum/Vivian Girl Frankie Rose offers to take us on a cruise down the Interstellar Highway on the opening track of her solo debut, it’s hard to remember a more enticing proposition. Low-end organ rumbles and swells with the deep black grandiosity of the night. Synthetic celestial twinkles tease the playful exploration to come. And when the tribal drum crash hits a minute in, Rose’s gorgeous multi-track vocals plummet like a meteor shower toward the tingling terra firma of our brains. We know we’re in for a journey. And our bags have long been packed.
Rose’s Interstellar plays like a minimalistic response to Bon Iver’s woodsy one-man symphony, similarly crafted to fill headphones, not crowded rooms. Instead of escaping to the woods of Wisconsin though, it’s more likely that Frankie chilled for a few months in geostationary orbit with only a batch of A-Ha and Pat Benatar cassettes to score the ride. She emerges from the extraterrestrial woodshed with just over 30 minutes of slow-building ambiance, an indie-pop opus that resonates with a depth and whimsy unfit for the lo-fi chug of Dum Dum and Vivian Girls bangers. The echoing handclaps and “Take On Me”-catchy drum machine drive of the album’s leading single, “Know Me,” build one of the most convincing synth-pop pump-ups we’ve heard since ’80s-wave imitation became the norm a few years back. Interstellar‘s more poppy tracks like “Daylight Sky” and the circuital chorus of “Had We Had It” definitely move with that infectious unitards-and-aerobics energy, but slower jams like “Pair Of Wings” launch Rose meteorically beyond the orbit of mere pastiche. Rose’s vocals, bearing down like a planet thanks to crisp production, penetrate most effectively above the song’s slow bleed of organ chords.
Like the cosmos itself, Interstellar is a grower. One listen is not enough to grasp its galaxy of production depth and may not be enough to sell casual listeners. Fans of Rose’s 2010 solo release with backing band the Outs will find comfort in the mutated space-age surf rock of “Night Swim,” which swells with slick guitar slides and chords slapped in angry reverberating triplets. But beyond that, Rose offers us few actual riffs to noodle our fingers around here. She seems far more interested in enveloping us entirely.