It took Frankie Rose several years to develop from a temporary member of snotty retro-rock groups like Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts to the full-fledged singer-songwriter of her new solo album, Interstellar. But in that time, her reference points jumped forward a couple of decades. Interstellar exchanges the goth-tinged girl-group melodrama of Dum Dum Girls for twee, star-gazing, synth-heavy ’80s guitar pop; it tosses aside the willful punk-rock amateurishness of Vivian Girls for a highly polished and professional sheen; it waves away the murk of Crystal Stilts to reveal newfound clarity and sonic definition. But while Interstellar presents Rose’s music in a shiny, seductive new package, the contents remain similarly ephemeral.
Rose wastes no time getting to the best part of Interstellar: The album-opening title track is a veritable whipped-cream sundae of swooshing, trenchcoat-clad alt-pop—all sweep, forward velocity, and bouncy-ball “oh-oh-oh’s.” The adolescent drive of “Interstellar” powers the best parts of the album, like the squiggly bassline that bounds through the open spaces left by wiry guitars in “Night Swim” or the post-punk redux of Phil Spector’s hormonal “Then He Kissed Me” rhythms hopping excitedly in “Gospel/Grace.”
But even when Interstellar is enjoyable, it never feels all that substantive. Rose is meticulous about the synth sounds being of proper 120 Minutes vintage, and the drums have that familiar rinky-dink slap of Joy Division’s first record. But the songs themselves aren’t as well thought-out; Rose heaps the romantic glop on silly, slower numbers like the ballad “Pair Of Wings,” which repeats the invitation “Show me your scars / I’ll show you mine” for a seemingly endless three and a half minutes, like a self-help book on tape with a slightly hipper-than-usual New Age soundtrack. Like much of Interstellar, it is all dressed up in lush atmosphere with no particular place to go.