The phrase “summer music” has always been one of criticism’s immortal cop-outs, a meaningless code word for good music that sticks to major keys and keeps its song lengths within reason. It’s not exactly a watershed revelation that the stuff mixes well with beach parties. Recently, though, it’s come to stand for a more specific aesthetic: haze. Chillwave and surf-pop groups have staked a laid-back claim to the summer airwaves, releasing reverb-heavy album after reverb-heavy album on labels with apt names like Mexican Summer that know how to sell their specific brand of sleepy bliss.
This recent trend is why it’s so easy to almost pre-hear Frankie Rose’s new album “Careers” (released with vocalist Drew Citron under the name Beverly) after a quick glance at its cover, which is a near-parody of surfy symbolism. There’s a giant, Hockney-esque pool. Large cursive script. An extremely high tint-to-shade ratio. All it’s missing is a stick-on label that reads “Here be fuzzy melodies.”
In this case, what you see is what you get. “Careers” is a pleasant album, and one that is much more sonically rich than a lot of the records it evokes, but it’s nothing new. It’s also a disappointing detour of sorts for Frankie Rose, whose past two solo efforts were more engrossing and expansive than the backstage role she takes on "Careers." Beverly might be Rose’s main focus moving forward, or a one-off side project (it’s always tough to predict what she’ll do next), but “Careers” doesn’t ask a lot of questions that feel like they need answering in a follow-up.
The album opens with “Madora,” which sounds like a tame outtake from “Bossanova.” A better comparison for the rest of the album, though, is a poppier Pixies offshoot—The Breeders. With its whispered verses, two-word choruses, and cut time drumming, “Careers” sounds like something Kim Deal’s side project could’ve recorded while in a collective good mood.
Even with Steve Albini behind the sliders, though, it probably wouldn’t have come out sounding this good. Like Rose’s synthier solo albums “Interstellar” and “Herein Wild,” “Careers” benefits from top-shelf production. The vocals on the album, especially, are mixed wonderfully, coming out with an almost instrument-like quality. Unlike with many surf-rock albums, it doesn’t sound like they’re competing with fuzzy guitars for sonic space, but rather blending with them to emphasize the group’s simple yet effective harmonic lines. The guitar parts themselves sound expansive on “Careers,” as well—on the angular riffs of lead single “Honey Do,” you can hear the individual strings within each chord. “Careers” doesn’t have the frantic drive that makes its lo-fi cousins so much fun, but it’s definitely ear candy.
The album does suffer from a serious dip in the middle, though, starting with the sluggish “Yale’s Life” (the lyrics are tough to hear, but I’ll assume they’re about jealousy and constant fear of being robbed). The instrumental “Ambular” starts off with a promising, distorted riff, and then basically repeats it for two-and-a-half minutes. “Out on a Ride,” the album’s worst track, sounds completely tossed-off. For the most part, though, the songwriting on “Careers” is solid at its worst and infectious at its best—especially on “Honey Do,” “All the Things,” and “You Can’t Get It Right.”
All this is to say that there are worse poolside or road-tripping albums than “Careers,” especially if you don’t play it off your laptop. But it’s not a record that you or I or anyone will remember by the time next summer rolls around, and that means it falls short of what Frankie Rose is capable of accomplishing.
—Staff writer Will Holub-Moorman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.