As the front person of the Philly-based quartet Hop Along, Frances Quinlan is a force of nature. Aside from the fact that her songwriting has been razor-sharp since their debut Get Disowned, her voice elevates her. Their music is peppered with moments where the vocals come out as a world-worn growl, ditching the sweetness of her usual sound for something that has more kick. It’s part of what raises the band to greatness from being merely good.
It’s hard to say if Quinlan needed to make her debut solo album, Likewise, but it’s a treat that we have it. Created and produced with bandmate Joe Reinhart as a vehicle for her desire to expand her sonic toolkit past solely guitar, the record never stays put long enough to establish a unified sound, instead settling for a series of soft experiments in personal boundary pushing. Luckily, Quinlan and Reinhart have a knack for this, and the end result is eight songs (and one cover, a beautiful take on Built to Spill’s “Carry the Zero”) in just over a half-hour with zero duds.
Each song has its own engine with its own goals, all of which are tied together with Quinlan’s voice, pushed to the very front of the mix. Sometimes she plays it safe, like on the gorgeous and somber acoustic guitar-driven “A Secret”, which waits until the last minute to toss in a little piano to sweeten the deal. Elsewhere, they make spritely synth-pop on “Your Reply” or glitchy baroque pop like “Detroit Lake,” the latter of which is good enough to hope that Hop Along add a string section for their next album. Then there’s “Went to LA,” a fraught acoustic guitar song with gentle string touches that gives Quinlan a chance for her voice to really reach those crackly heights she’s become so well known for, as she howls “HEAVEN IS A SECOND! HEAVEN IS A SECOND CHANCE!”
Likewise really isn’t all that different from her music with Hop Along—what makes it great is the joy Quinlan seems to take in working to satisfy her hunger for becoming more sonically omnivorous. Who could ask for more?