Frances Quinlan technically recorded her first solo album way back in the ancient past of 2005. This project, titled Freshman Year, was appropriately created in between her freshman and sophomore years of college and released through the name Hop Along, Queen Ansleis. The material on this project was entirely acoustic but Quinlan yearned for more stating “I would envy [full ensembles] because I thought that a band inherently carries more energy than a person does solo.”.
That dream was made a reality through Hop Along, a Philly-based indie rock group featuring Frances Quinlan on vocals and Joe Reinhart, formerly of Algernon Cadwallader, on guitar. The group has three stellar albums under their belt, most recently releasing Bark Your Head Off, Dog in 2018 to critical acclaim.
Likewise, released on January 31st 2020, arrives as the proper debut studio album for Quinlan who is far removed from the days of writing and recording for Freshman Year. The most striking sonic difference between Likewise and her 2005 effort are the expanded repertoire of instrumentation littered throughout this new album. With the help of bandmate Joe Reinhart in the recording process, Quinlan chose to include synthesizers, strings, and even an autoharp in an attempt to be more adventurous with her sound.
Despite the novel variety of instruments featured on Likewise, the main draw of this record is easily Quinlan herself. Her lyrics are a focal point of the music for multiple reasons. Firstly, her vocal delivery is truly idiosyncratic. She bends the pronunciation of words to her capricious will and is often fearless in choosing to emphasize particular syllables throughout a line. Secondly, the lyrics themselves are far more complex and specific than an audience normally comes across in music, even in the indie rock realm that more frequently finds lyricists constructing incredibly niche situations.
The opening verse of standout track “Your Reply” provides an example of both of Quinlan’s merits mentioned above. She croons “Somebody wrote ‘tender’ in the novel’s margins/As if to remind about a precious force/In the next paragraph the protagonist/Sat down on the belly of a dead horse”. The complexity of the sentiment is deceptive, especially when coupled with the manner in which she vocally delivers the ending words “dead horse”.
The thoughts Quinlan shares across the album continually leave her listeners with content to contemplate, to chew on, to consider. Rarely, however, does she provide any answers herself; instead being content to pose questions and move on. This frequently pushes the songs into a space that isn’t linear or narrative, as fragments built off arcane references coalesce to form a disjointed, yet emotionally charged, whole.
Perhaps one artistic misstep for Likewise was the inclusion of the closing track, “Carry the Zero”, a Built to Spill cover that has long been a favorite of Quinlan’s. This new rendition simply fails to bring the fervent energy necessary in the original. Even so, the prospect of Hop Along, or Frances Quinlan, covering Built to Spill is enticing enough in theory that it can be forgiven for not suitably translating in practice.
A promotional tour for this album is taking place now as Frances Quilan plays at nine stops in the United States and Canada. Find all tour dates and locations here.