I don’t usually listen to indie rock, but when I do, it’s for a good reason. This time around, the reason is Frances Quinlan. The Hop Along frontwoman has decided to grace the world with her debut solo album Likewise. I don’t know much about indie rock, I admit. However, I do know what makes an outstanding album, and this is an outstanding album.
Sonically, Likewise is a gorgeous nine-song romp through a glistening and glittering indie rock wonderland. Album opener “Pilitdown Man” takes a stroll down a piano-driven lane as Quinlan sings softly in a pleasingly off-kilter manner. “Rare Thing” is a hypnotic spiral staircase up to synth-pop heaven. “Went to LA” is a twinkling acoustic gaze up toward the stars marked by Quinlan’s ever-present ruminations on anything and everything. As a whole, Likewise is a sonic tour of Quinlan’s world, a world for everyone, filled with pleasant little quirks and easter eggs.
Lyrically, however, Likewise is something of an oasis. Quinlan is floating by herself, accompanied only by her own thoughts and musings. She covers themes ranging from climate change, human compassion, solitude and even cannibalism. Despite this range, Quinlan is always laser-focused, dissecting each topic with the precision and ease of a surgeon. This description makes it seem like Likewise is a sterile operating room, but it certainly is not. Rather, it is a messy, scattered album similar to the natural world, which Quinlan wrangles with grace and poise, deftly handling everything that crosses her mind.
“Detroit Lake” finds Quinlan striking the perfect balance between sonic beauty and lyrical dismay. She takes listeners to a conversation between the narrator and another person, far away from the namesake lake. In the song’s chorus, she sings, “Miles from all that's between us at stake / Algae blooms up in Detroit Lake / Listening for my turn to come next / Leave, the same as I came in, more or less.” Quinlan describes a conversation running dry, perhaps the sign of a dying relationship, which, at the time, seems more important than the algal bloom in the distant Detroit Lake. “Detroit Lake” serves as a reminder that our actions can have grave consequences, yet we still are more concerned about ourselves, a message that rings true across the album.
Likewise is a thoughtful album that is chock-full of compelling lyrics and ideas, but for some reason, Quinlan decides to end it with words that are not her own. Album closer “Carry the Zero” is a cover of the Built to Spill song of the same name, and despite its status as a cover, it’s so much more. In a personal album filled with her thoughts and feelings, it makes sense that Quinlan chose to include a cover of one of her favorite songs. She stays true to the essence of the song, but she makes it wholly her own. She makes it more subdued than the original, driven by an echoing synth line that, in true Quinlan fashion, eventually explodes into a full band, including blazing guitar licks and a pulsating bass line. All the focus is on her as she perfectly and thoughtfully delivers each line, closing her album beautifully.
Likewise finds Frances Quinlan tackling some pretty complex themes, but she delivers them in a relatable, down-to-earth manner, thanks to her charming persona and gorgeous instrumentals. Quinlan is sure to make a fan out of anyone with Likewise. She certainly just made one out of me.