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Frances Quinlan - Likewise (Album Review)

Tuesday, 11 February 2020 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Julia Khorosilov

“Are pigeons ever cannibalistic?” That isn’t a question you expect to hear on one of the most anticipated albums of the year, or anywhere else for that matter. But the best records come into their own when the listener is caught off guard by a surprising melody or a weird lyric they would never have dreamed of putting together.

Enter Frances Quinlan, master of the unexpected. ‘Likewise’ is the first record issued under her own name and it offers a stripped-back version of her work with Philadelphia indie-rock band Hop Along, which began as her freak-folk solo project Hop Along, Queen Ansleis over a decade ago.

It’s made up of fragmented songs that twist and turn seemingly at random but, delightfully, they become only slightly more cohesive with repeat listens.

Stepping away from her bandmates (despite Hop Along’s Joe Reinhart helping out with recording), Quinlan is able to experiment with different forms of instrumentation here. 

“The guitar is just one vehicle,” she said in a statement. “There are so many others to explore.” She manifests this quest on Rare Thing, which transforms radically from a washed-out electro-pop wave to taut guitar chords, before swinging into a tapped organ rhythm. It’s off the wall and very exciting.

Furthermore, Detroit Lake merges string samples with synths in unconventional patterns that somehow build tension in a major key, even managing to creep into earworm territory without a distinct chorus. Despite switching it up every 20 seconds or so, the pieces fit well and are collectively beguiling. 

It’s not just the instrumentation that wanders, though. The bouncy pace, lamenting and jubilant tones, optimistic ideas and abstract imagery on ‘Likewise’ shift with each phrase like an excited child. Opener Piltdown Man combines the story of a rowdy childhood sleepover with that of a fraudulent archeological discovery in the 1950s, and the charming Belle and Sebastian rhythms of Your Reply describe a book Quinlan is reading as well as taking a walk with the subject’s aunt.

“The last time I came up this way I was younger,” says the aunt. “Isn’t it a good line?” Later, they become dark over chicken and wine, and it amounts to yet another gorgeous, rose-tinted memory of human connection planted throughout the record. Rare Thing and Now That I’m Back push this concept the furthest, depicting the risks and rewards that come with sharing ourselves with others. “There is love that doesn’t have to do with taking something from somebody,” Quinlan asserts, before suggesting that: “We should try again to talk.”

But above the instrumental choices and narrative decisions, it’s Quinlan’s one-in-a-million voice that bears the torch of expression on ‘Likewise’. Her ability to turn one syllable into a line-long melody and effortless alternating of head and chest tones is the LP’s emotional core. Every song works in an illogical yet methodical structure, tied up neatly with her sublime vocals.


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