Three years of steadily working her way into the collective conscious of the Portland music scene, Frankie Simone has arrived riding an exclamation point. This past week saw the release of her debut effort with local label, Infinite Companion, and whether or not you appreciate pop music, one can’t deny her relevance and importance in today’s musical landscape. With LOVE//WARRIOR, Simone gives us five unabashed pop anthems pulled from her own life experience and blown up to stadium proportion, thanks to in-house co-production from herself and Graham Barton. It is exciting to see this happening in our own backyard of Portland, OR, and we all ought to acknowledge the privilege we have of watching this phoenix ascend in her symphony of modern love. Simone doesn’t do subtle – rather, colors her world with highlighters – and these tracks are proud anthems of queer pride from this high priestess of pop.
The project arrives as a temporal double shot of love thyself, naked and with warts intact. While the message comes across crystal clear, there are moments when the vehicle of conveyance leaves something to be desired. At times the vocal delivery feels awkward or forced, paired with conservatively generic lyrics that could benefit from more personal detail. It’s a project that is full of good ideas that haven’t all been fully realized. Still, as a whole, LOVE//WARRIOR demonstrates the confluence of confidence, positivity, and self-acceptance.
The EP kicks off with “War Paint” casting Simone’s vocals against a ticking time bomb of claps that gather percussive elements like a snowball rolling downhill. The song relies heavily on Simone’s vocals to carry the melody alongside the driving percussion ensemble devoid of other instrumentation save for a few synth notes. The performance is a high point on the release that furthermore demonstrates her pop potential and ear for melody. Reappropriating insults, it is an empowering song about converting an intended hurt into an uplifting war cry. The percussion throughout is kinetic and showcased with a 45-second solo, a move not often seen in typical three-minute pop song structure. Speaking with Billboard, Simone said that the song is about creating armour composed of your own self-worth, acceptance, and love to wear as protection from anyone questioning your being. This empress has a new wardrobe and it’s looking as attractive as confidence itself.
It’s easy to imagine “War Paint,” “LOVE//WARRIOR,” and EP closer, “Love You Just the Same,” exploding in an amphitheatre, and the comparatively calm tracks between each provide requisite breathing room for the next triumphant crescendo. “Blow My Mind” is a pastiche of late 90’s sounding pop–miles from the tribal rhythm of the opener. Here we find more of Simone’s life experience providing the lyrical content as she directly addresses her wife and collaborator, Che Che Luna. This is a love song for 2018 and beyond, and Simone is the perfect ambassador for this assured self-acceptance that fans will be able to buy into and transfer onto their own experience. “Queer” functions in a similar fashion, still positing the uplifting message from earlier tracks, but in a less grandiose manner. Don’t get me wrong, neither “Blow My Mind” nor “Queer” are sleepers; rather, they are comparatively milder to their surrounding offerings.
Simone’s LOVE///WARRIOR lyric video
The centerpiece and title track, “LOVE//WARRIOR,” begins with a talky rap verse that sounds a tad forced, as if Simone is trying to graft her flow over the music, but she soon finds her footing with the uptempo call to action: “Come out, come out, my people where are you? Come out, come out, come out”. This track, more than any other, reaches for pop heights, and the chorus soars over a chunky synth bass line groove. Closer, “Love You Just the Same,” begins with a single piano line, a red herring for the song’s true structure. At the minute mark, the track explodes with electronic drums, trap hi-hats, and a catchy synth line, and once again you can’t help but ride the Simone wave of self-love.
The concise EP feels less like a cohesive album and more like a collection of singles, which for the most part works. She archives her message, albeit not revealing as much of her personal experience as I would have liked. With no paced transitions or bleed over, one can imagine the design to function in a streaming world of singles as opposed to existing as a wholly-realized project. While LOVE//WARRIOR is both positive and entertaining, I look forward to her next release, hoping she may transcend the generic pop lyrical structure to create a project that is uniquely her own. For now, what we get is a strong introduction to an artist whom demands to be heard, and a message that needs a platform. Heed her warning, and love thyself.