's debut solo album, Likewise
, is full of pretty but incomplete production, leaving stunning vocals and lyrics without the backdrop they deserve. Quinlan and her Philadelphia-based band Hop Along have been making waves in the world of indie rock with their excellent songs and intricate instrumentals, culminating in the 2018 masterpiece, Bark Your Head Off, Dog
. While the entire band contributed fantastic musicianship to this album, Quinlan stood out with her relentlessly idiosyncratic vocals, completely dominating every one of the album's catchy and emotional tracks.
After leading the band in making its best album yet, Quinlan began work on her solo debut, a chance for her to experiment sonically and create songs more personal and intimate than any tunes on Hop Along's albums. On Likewise
's best tracks, she fully lives up to those goals, creating songs just as complete as the best on Bark Your Head Off, Dog
, with a softer charm that is all her own.
"Your Reply" instantly establishes itself as one of the cutest and catchiest ballads Quinlan has ever written, pairing poetic lyrics and breathy vocals with a lovely blend of bright piano, acoustic guitar and warbly organs. The track's rhythm switches up in the chorus, adding more swing to the drum beat while Quinlan's relaxed delivery grows more energetic and unpredictable, keeping the song fresh.
While "Your Reply" executes a simple song perfectly with steady instrumentation, "Rare Thing" blossoms into an entirely different track by the end of its three and a half minutes. The song begins with synth-pop, introducing more and more acoustic instrumentation until bright electric guitars take over, accented with waves of harp plucks as Quinlan leaps between subtle whispers and powerful melodies. Although the track's closing blend of warm keyboards, funky bass lines and strained vocals sound nothing like its opening, Quinlan's gorgeous production and refreshing songwriting effortlessly guide "Rare Thing" through its evolution.
Quinlan's lyrics and vocals are flawless across all of Likewise
, but the production can falter at times, leaving beautiful tunes as unfulfilled cliff-hangers.
"Lean" begins as a slow and meditative alt-country ballad, with a delicate mix of acoustic guitar, banjo and strings, complementing Quinlan's romantic and picturesque lyrics. The song doesn't develop until its climax when a heavy drum beat and thicker string arrangements come in, leaving the rest of the song too quiet and restrained. Every moment of "Lean" is pretty, but the song could have reached toward an even more euphoric conclusion instead of remaining reserved.
Another incomplete track is the penultimate "Now That I'm Back," which gradually builds from a muffled mix of keys and soft vocals into an explosion of busy drums, groovy bass and bouncy synths. Quinlan's low harmonies on the ending chorus are infectious, but the track ends before this danceable groove can grow and evolve. The song drags its feet at the beginning, then abruptly ends once the fun really gets going.
The closing track, "Carry the Zero," demonstrates both the album's best and worst qualities. Quinlan's breezy vocals soar over an odd blend of synth bass, programmed drums and shrieking electric guitars before the track switches atmospheres, introducing splashes of spacey piano, driving guitars and soft backing vocals. But just as Quinlan's soundscape builds towards something incredible, the song fades away.
Just like Likewise
does overall, the album's closer does not give its shining moments enough time to breathe and develop, leaving behind countless brilliant ideas with not enough resolution.
Pitdown Man; Your Reply; Rare Thing; Detroit Lake; A Secret; Went to LA; Lean; Now That I'm Back; Carry the
Frances Quinlan: vocals, instruments and production; Joe Reinhart: production.