Episode 102: First World Tools

Ryan and Matt listen to and discuss Frankie Cosmos’s debut studio album, “Zentropy.”

TFT Logo 2013Ryan and Matt listen to and discuss Frankie Cosmos’s debut studio album, “Zentropy.”


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Alternative Titles

  • Live From The Center Of The Cremaster Field
  • The Curation Of Identity
  • The Representation Of Self
  • Continuous And Hyperdimensional
  • A Nail In The Coffin Of The Great Man Theory Of History
  • I’m The Kind Of Girl That The Zombie Necromancers Splash With Rain
  • Your Faraday Cage Of Noninterference Rests On A Pyramid Of Human Skulls
  • Raucous Gauntlet
  • First World Tools
  • These Are The Kind Of Songs That Get Stuck In My Head

10 Comments on “Episode 102: First World Tools”

  1. Pasteur #

    So, is Dan Harmon in the pyramid of human skulls, or is the pyramid of human skulls in the ravioli?


  2. fenzel OTI Staff #

    It’s poetry, but it’s doggerel.


    • sheely OTI Staff #

      I’m the kind of guy over whose head clever puns effortlessly sail.

      Like seriously, it took you saying “dog jokes aside” for me to get the doggerel thing.


  3. fenzel OTI Staff #

    So, dog jokes aside — I’m trying to follow along with these podcasts now to be exposed to new music (for me, if not for everyone) and listen to great friends and very smart people. By way of flavor, most of the albums so far I’ve listened to on a bike-share bike on about a 30 minute route that takes me over the Jeremy Renner bridge between Boston and Charlestown and across the new footbridge to Cambridge. I’ve really enjoyed them (and am building out a “TFT Curriculum” Spotify list for the most recent episodes).

    I reacted really negatively to this album. I hated it – it made me angry and kind of disgusted. But I think that’s, on its face, more on me than on the album — as in, there’s no claim in this music that it is for everybody or that everybody is supposed to like it (quite the opposite), and in this case my taste doesn’t really veer in its direction.

    In line with what you guys were discussing with regards to the punk scene, I found this album “confounding.” I disagreed pretty vehemently with most of what it had to say about human experience.

    I felt personally disregarded and offended by it. As a grown man who is frequently splashed by buses, I want to resist my own experience being rendered subaltern. As a kid who didn’t do these cool rebellious things as a teenager, I tend to feel pretty nasty toward music that seems to make an effort to disregard that experience. This is perhaps one reason why music like Springsteen’s resonates with me more — the extra level of “fictionality” makes it easier to connect with the song: because a story that is metaphorical and symbolic of more universal experience casts a wider net than a specific autobiographical story seeking to legitimize and empower a narrow, specific sort of experience. And also I guess because Springsteen is actually like me in a bunch of ways and Frankie Cosmos and I don’t really have that much in common.

    As I was biking home, I formulated my main problem with this album as “The problem of other minds that give a shit.” As in, when Frankie Cosmos says that she’s crazy and has no idea what she’s doing, yeah, if your primary concern is your own feeling of helplessness, it can be therapeutic to encounter someone feeling this way. Granted.

    But the rest of us have things to do, so how about you come back when you have something to contribute?

    The dog song was the best song, I thought.

    This is, I suppose, partially what it feels like to be part of a music scene confronting other music scenes. To just be angry at this thing because I want to see a world shaped by other forces than the forces in this song.

    And then, of course, I wanted to try to rise above and consider the album on its own terms. And on those terms, I’m starting to understand what it’s about and appreciate the challenge that came from listening to it.

    I strongly agree with Wrather that, to the extent that this album is oriented as poetry, it is probably because it is involved in a “poetry process.” It was written in a poetical frame of mind with poetical aspirations, and then probably tune-ified later.

    But one interesting angle I would be drawn to explore here is an idea of “a project of poetry” — wherein all poetry as a whole — and particularly in English and its immediate orbits — is trying to accomplish something.

    This project has both altruistic and competitive aims. On one hand, we look for poems that use language in ways that enlarge the things we value that poetry encompasses and provides — like beauty, meaning, lyric, understanding, and technologies of power.

    But on the other hand, poetry is also kind of a Highlander situation where in the end all the rap battlers will meet in Shao Lin in 1996 and in the end there can be only one — or maybe only one in each epoch.

    This is a particular, not universal way of understanding poetry, of course, but it comes to mind when considering this album.

    I don’t really see the use of language in this album as part of a “project of poetry.” It isn’t ambitious from a language perspective. I’d have to listen to it more or look more at the lyrics, but the various compositional elements of it seem trivial. It doesn’t really say or resay anything new or compelling. It isn’t particularly beautiful or terrible.

    Also it clearly isn’t finished, and there’s a lot that a poet involved with the project of poetry (as an externality, rather than a personal inspiration or social identifier) would cut from this. Which hearing from you guys how prolific this artist is, that makes a lot of sense.

    But I was more compelled by the “music side” of the album — mostly in its atmospheric presentation, how it felt kind of provocatively and challengingly interpreted, arranged and presented. I was nodding my head enthusiastically with your talk about this album being assembled from the standpoint of an assumption that “what I have to say is of consequence” — and there was a certain elegance and sublimity to craft this faberge egg that is full of banal bullshit and sing it like the sound demands an encircling Hermitage.

    There was a little bit of virtuosity, too, at least with the technology, which is always nice — though I wonder if as she matures Frankie Cosmos might tighten up her singing and playing, as her relationship with the zeitgeist might not be volksy enough that it benefits from proverbial scratches and pops.

    So, yeah, it felt more like “I am making an album where I am going to try to be a poet, because I want to feel how that feels and hear what that sounds like musically” rather than “I am making an album of poetry.”

    “Performativity” is a three-dollar word that has a lot to do with all this, I’m sure.

    Which is why my own answer to the research question this week, as a The-Town-Bound amateur fan, was much more in Wrather’s pause than in his statement. If you asked me if Frankie Cosmos is for real, I’d respond “No fucking way.” Although of course that goes back to my personal tastes and prejudice.

    Thanks for a great episode!


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      Reading the pitchfork interview, there’s no clearer indication to me that Frankie Cosmos isn’t for real than that her boyfriend made up her name.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      Have you considered stepping back from the curb? The puddles are in the gutter and they’re filthy; just maybe don’t hang out right at the edge on a rainy day.


      • fenzel OTI Staff #

        This is the kind of corporate-o-fascist thinking against which America’s teenagers stand in open revolt.



    • Mark Lee OTI Staff #

      I won’t go so far as Pete’s angry reaction to the album, but I will say that I had a knee-jerk negative reaction to the music. “Insufferably twee and precious” is how I would describe it.

      To which I would imagine Ryan/Matt would respond, “feature, not a bug.”


      • fenzel OTI Staff #

        Yeah, I feel bad even talking about this stuff because I know my gut reaction to it is totally irrelevant to what it is trying to accomplish or to indie pop in general. But my therapist has suggested I work through this kind of guilt, so here I am.

        Like, one main purpose of this music is to piss people like me off. It even says so in one of the songs. So I guess in that sense it’s #winning.


      • sheely OTI Staff #

        I don’t think you should feel guilty about your gut reaction at all. The fact that most of these artists are totally new to you and you come to the albums without a lot of context means that you’re reacting in a way that is relatively unmediated, especially given that most listening in the indie music space (myself included) is very much shaped by pitchfork and other peer publications. There are a lot of “emperors new clothes” situations where the discourse hovers on an understanding about a given artist/album that makes no sense when viewed from an outside perspective.

        I would love to hear both of your reactions to two other artists that fall into this “insufferably twee and precious” branch of indie pop. In particular, the experimentalist in me is interested in isolating whether the negative reaction was caused by Frankie Cosmos or by the broader type of which she is an instance. This is basically the musical equivalent of one of those allergy tests where they poke your back with a bunch of things and see what causes what kind of reaction.

        One is Beat Happening, who I talked about on the podcast. As I mentioned, they’re often referenced a lot by critics who are writing about Frankie Cosmos. The album by them that I recommend is called Jamboree, which is from 1988.

        The second is Mates of State, who are an interesting comparison, given that their identity as a group is as a romantically involved couple, which provides some interesting comparisons/contrasts with Frankie Cosmos/Ronnie Mystery. Team Boo (2003) is the best of their albums to listen to (although “My Solo Project” (2000) is probably a better analogue of where Frankie Cosmos is currently in her recording career).

        So put these in your TFT Spotify Playlist and report back if you have the time and inclination, either here or in the OTI Forums (there is a separate section for TFT, but we haven’t gotten too much use out of it).


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