Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Likewise, the first solo album released under her own name from Philadelphia punk-infused indie rock outlet Hop Along’s Francis Quinlan.
“Think I should stop checking myself out in the windows of cars,” Francis Quinlan sang a couple years ago on Hop Along’s last album Bark Your Head Off, Dog. This lyric, its bashfulness about the most human of tendencies, has stuck itself like a band poster to the inside walls of my head, as Quinlan’s songs tend to do, making an appearance every time a car passes by and I do the same.
While it’d be easy to ascribe the instinct to glance and probe at your reflection whenever the chance presents itself to vanity, I’d argue it’s one of Quinlan’s biggest strengths as an artist and lyricist, and its especially rewarding on her gentler, more inward solo debut Likewise. “I went to LA / Searching for my own face / I couldn't find it in the dry toothy maw of the lake,” she sings on “Went to LA.” This notion of searching for and observation of self seem to drive a lot of the themes in Quinlan’s work, but Likewise relies heavily on the observations that lie outside oneself.
“For a lot of people, there is this desire that existence is not just limited to their body or mind and that’s all: that there is this force or existence, this outer witness [like God],”Quinlan recently [told VMP in an interview](. “And some of us just want it to be other people [who witness us], that can prove we were here, the memories of others and the love of others as proof of our having been here. Being loved is such tremendous proof.”
Quinlan is a painter — her work can be seen on Hop Along’s last couple covers, as well as the one graces Likewise, which appropriately features her face — and she writes like one: observant, frank, injecting influences and emotion here and there in through abstraction and musical experimentation, instead of maudlin and over-indulgent lyricism. She plodds through scenes of her childhood friend’s parents demeanor (“Piltdown Man”), her young niece simply experiencing the word (“Rare Thing”), a scene from the novel Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal (“Your Reply”), making it all the more poignant when she pauses to be declarative. I have to stop myself and admit I am happy,” she punctuates the grand, harp-strum-tinged second chorus of “Rare Thing.”
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.