A refreshing singularity
Frances Quinlan may suffer from binding chains – it’s natural to judge her debut breakaway Likewise in connection to the band that she left behind. It’s not always easy to see the separation between her and Hop Along’s music on this record, such that our judgement of it really can become chained to its pretext. However, it’s also decidedly eccentric. It’s unpredictable and intimate, and so vastly different from the full, guitar bodied sound we’ve come to expect from Hop Along, that the chains seem to slip away as quickly as they appeared.
Quinlan has always had a whimsical presence – it’s in her writing, her words, and her voice, and Likewise celebrates that like never before. It’s the best thing about this record – to hear her so genuinely unafraid of the sound she owns. It’s quirky and clumsy, in the best of ways, somewhere between Natalie Imbruglia and Dolores O’Riordan (if ever there could be a more foreign combination to us). Yet this alien youth is what makes it so likeable and true. The subtle warmth of her vocal hooks, the relatability of her composition, and the uplifting verve behind her spirit. “Your Reply” shines in all these ways, while tracks like “Rare Thing” push an alternative agenda that retains the strength of a fluid melody. Even in the acoustic quiet of “A Secret,” Quinlan sows her style so vividly that we easily forget where she came from and who she got here with. The first step towards considering Likewise in its own context, away from the past of Hop Along, is to dissociate the notion of having to forget that past in order to do so. It’s simply the acknowledgement of a way that was indelibly forged by Hop Along, now being traversed singularly, and thankfully so.
“Lean” builds on the wider instrumentation across this record, and brings a beautiful tonality to the whole thing. Quinlan knows how to pull on those heartstrings, in an almost indescribable way. I can’t say why or what it is, but there’s something so powerfully emotional about her music, and the simplicity of her writing is what fuels it. The entire record is void of any commercial tact or preoccupation, maybe more so than I’ve heard in a long time, and that is the most refreshing part of this all.
It’s still easy to pick at the loose threads, and objectively, there are a few. Likewise can become one dimensional if not fragmented by Quinlan’s creativity, a necessity that is sometimes lost to indulgence. She loads the record with these startling points of refraction (the electric licks on “Carry The Zero” have got to be the best), but they’re not always enough to disguise the underlying reprise of a style she grasps too easily. The record could definitely have done with even more contemporary grace to break the mood and open a wider fan base for albums to come.
Still, less is more, and with unearthed belief, Frances Quinlan will surely continue to make strides as exciting, as vulnerable and as liberating as Likewise.