Frances Quinlan is perhaps best known for her work with the flourishing indie rock band Hop Along, if not for her energetic vocal style. Though the band were building steady momentum in recent years with well received albums ‘Painted Shut’ and ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’, Quinlan has decided to go solo – an unusual choice considering Hop Along began as her own solo acoustic project. However unusual the circumstances behind it, the decision may well have been an educated one as ‘Likewise’ is quite different from anything Hop Along has put out to date.
‘Likewise’ sees Quinlan abandon the dynamic rock instrumentation and complex, angular riffage of Hop Along in favour of a sound that highlights her voice and lyrics. The album is built on a solid foundation of keys, drums and acoustic guitar but there are occasional flourishes of strings, harp and processed beats.
Her talent as a performer takes centre-stage right from the offset. On the Morrisettesque Your Reply, her voice skips gracefully around long-winded verses that flit from one image to the next at the speed of sound. Her vocal style is as much a narrative tool as the lyrics themselves it seems, as she wonders “Whether or not I have or was given a little more time / There just doesn’t seem to be much room for a reply”. As the instrumental builds in intensity, her vocal grows raspier, emphasising the frustration of her narrator. On Piltdown Man, she warbles over minimal Rhodes piano and samples of children’s laughter, musing over childhood memories.
The minimalism throughout ‘Likewise’ however is at times the album’s greatest weakness. Though Quinlan’s performance and song writing are excellent, they lack support at times. Despite the stronger backing on Rare Thing, the instrumentation feels all too lean as the song builds to a crescendo. While the keys and strings on Detroit Lake add to the song’s drama and to complement Quinlan’s voice, the raw, acoustic-based A Secret feels threadbare, especially when compared to the similarly arranged but better delivered Went to L.A., which finishes strong with Quinlan’s most impressive and expressive vocal performance on the album with the repeated mantra of “Heaven is a second chance”.
There are some disappointing moments brought about by questionable song structure, too. Towards the album’s end, Lean ironically provides one of the more layered instrumental tracks on ‘Likewise’. Here, Quinlan’s vocals begin to meander, and as the song transitions from solo to full band arrangement, it comes to an abrupt halt. The album closes with a cover version of Built to Spill’s Carry The Zero, which Quinlan sings beautifully, however the sparse, disjointed band arrangement is no match for the sleepy, melodic original.
‘Likewise’ is not a bad record but there are elements throughout that undermine its efficacy. Some songs are hastily arranged, while some could have done with lusher accompaniments to Quinlan’s otherwise perfect vocals. Her distinctive style should be complimented by equally distinctive instrumentation. We can only hope that her future endeavours give us more to talk about.