Published Jan 30, 2020Frances Quinlan can do no wrong, but can this be a bad thing?
The Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter has been known for her work with the indie rock band Hop Along; Likewise is the artist's first album under her own name. It's acoustic-heavy, but does, in turn, feature synth and digital beats, strings, harps, and keyboard. The album was recorded with her bandmate Joe Reinhart at Headroom Studios, a recording studio that prioritizes giving artists the space to create honest work.
Likewise, is easy listening, centring first Quinlan's flaxen voice and stories, and then the sometimes folksy, other times almost cinematic pace. But beneath the surface of the sound, there's a haunted vision laced throughout the lyrics — they're tremendously well-written, imagistic, narrative and beautiful. This density, however, might be the album's downfall.
Lyrically, the album is about communication, or miscommunication. Quinlan is obviously a very skilled lyricist. Her words are beautiful, well-written and even grammatically perfect, a form both literary and beyond reproach. "Went to LA" is deeply interesting, strange and melancholic — the story it contains is told in an almost stream-of-consciousness form. She demonstrates not only her poetic prowess, but her vocal range — her restraint and mastery of her voice, which explodes at the track's end.
Throughout, Quinlan paints vignettes depicting attempts at getting a meaning across to another through conversations, showing how difficult this sometimes is, despite the many opportunities at dialogue we're given by circumstance. "Last time I was here / changing the subject, / 'Just look at the lawn' you said, / 'It shouldn't be so green in December, / do you think we should worry?'" opens the song "A Secret."
Certainly, the album is stark, due to Quinlan's words and her voice. "Detroit Lake" contains the words "Are pigeons ever cannibalistic?" and it's deeply fascinating. But is being objectively good all that an album should be?
Likewise checks all the boxes of a "good" album, but it's also a bit boring. It's too much a showcase of Quinlan's lyrical acumen, which is incisive, but the record doesn't strike a visceral chord. Likewise, ultimately, is too pretentious — too mired in metaphor — which, paradoxically, has a tendency to end conversation. At the end of the day, it's like if structured poems, or the short stories you are made to read as an English major, were set to melodies and rhythm. Which, I guess, is a thing people do. The album would be a nice one to hear in a coffee shop, or in a Jason Reitman film. (Saddle Creek)