Review: Frankie Rose - Cage Tropical (Slumberland)
Frankie Rose turns misery into sparkly 80’s dream pop interspersed with some sanguine shoegazey moments
After a few years hiatus and a slight detour, it was announced in June that Frankie Rose would be releasing her fourth studio album Cage Tropical via Slumberland. Frankie, a self-described indie veteran, has spent time as a member of Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls and Beverly as well as releasing her own music whilst living in her adopted home of Brooklyn, NY.
The next chapter on her musical quest involved a relocation to her familial home in Los Angeles for 18 months. The blurb surrounding the release of Cage Tropical is that Frankie experienced some angst and self-doubt before work on the new LP began. Basically, she was having a bad time taking uppers and pursuing a stint on a catering truck doubting she would ever make music again, before coming to some existential realisations:
“In the end, I’m on my own. I have to do these things on my own.” She said of this time of uncertainty;
“who am I, I’m not cut out for this business, it’s not for me.” She continues, “I was literally in my room in L.A., not knowing how I was going to get out. But out of it all, I just decided to keep making music, because it is what I love and what I do – regardless of the outcome.”
After figuring out her s**t so to say, she connected with producer Jorge Elbrecht (Tamaryn, Gang Gang Dance, Violens), moved back to Brooklyn and began work on the album. The recording took place in between jobs and in parts as she made the record without a budget. Help came in the form of Dave Harrington (Darkside) who had an input with the dynamics and "changing up the rhythm" on part of the LP.
Since the announcement of Cage Tropical, we have been teased with three releases. This began with 'Trouble' which was released alongside a video and a request for fans to phone in with their UFO and paranormal experiences for a podcast. Frankie cites her love for old 80's Sci-fi film and John Carpenter style soundtracks as part of the inspiration behind Cage Tropical. This can be heard in the instrumentation and use of vintage synths, effects pedals alongside the weirdy vibed atmosphere within some of the songs.
One other noticeable nuance is in Frankie's vocal, which is usually swashed in reverb and lyrically obscured, but on Cage Tropical she sounds more upfront and clear. We can hear some of her words, like on opener 'Love and Rockets', “A wheel, a wheel, a wheel, of wasting my life.” The effect is, well, she becomes less enigmatic as we get more of a glimpse into who Frankie Rose is and what she is singing about.
There are a few overt but tasteful references to the gleaming 80’s pop that Bananarama churned out in this decade, heard at the chugging but driving interplay between the drumbeat and bass line in 'Trouble'. 'Art Bell', is a shoegazey affair which sounds a bit Siouxsie in places with its big chorus, glacial synths and playful vocal melodies. However, it would be an injustice and lazy to dilute the album down to its reference points. Frankie Rose as always has her own sound very much going on within this.
After listening to Cage Tropical in full, it is clear that like all great 80’s movie soundtracks - it needs to be listened to as an album and not just as a separate bunch of singles. The songs inform each other musically and atmospherically, listening to the whole thing together suddenly make complete sense of the singles which we were teased with this summer.
To surmise, Cage Tropical is a triumph for Frankie not just personally but also as a demonstration of how much she is capable of as a songwriter, musician and producer.