Review Summary: Excellent songwriting and vocals, and not much else.
The dynamic nature of Hop Along’s music has always given their albums a lot of variety. Quinlan is an incredible and diverse singer, and can use her voice to convey a wide array of emotions. She can convey anger, sadness, fear and wit all in the same line. On top of that, their songs are structured in a way that keeps them consistently engaging. They rarely follow the simple verse, chorus, bridge formula, instead opting for a more varied approach to the way they structure songs. They often introduce a hook in the beginning of a song, and reiterate that hook later on a more cathartic, immensely catchy way. These qualities give their songs a full-bodied sense of cohesion that keeps the listener engaged from start to finish.
A lot of these qualities are lacking on most of Quinlan’s solo debut Likewise. The songs follow a more generic structure, and the hooks and melodies rarely evolve or change the way they do on Hop Along’s albums. There’s simply less going on here overall, and these songs are more simple in their design. So logically, the question becomes if Quinlan’s songwriting ability and vocals are enough to carry an album without all the aforementioned traits that define Hop Along’s music, and with such a minimal approach being taken to some of the album’s arrangements and productions.
For the most part, it is. Quinlan’s passionate, eclectic vocals really shine on this album, and the comparative lack of instrumentation compared to Hop Along’s work really makes her the star of the show here (even more than she was before). Songs like Your Reply, with its simple, catchy piano melody, is an example of how when she’s at her best, Quinlan’s unique melodies and wordy lyrics can carry a song on their own. It’s catchy and feels fully fleshed out despite being fairly simple relative to Hop Along’s music. Detroit Lake is another highlight, with its entrancing electronic instrumentation giving way to a stunning hook, and it honestly stands toe to toe with Hop Along’s best songs because of it. Even when she delivers the same melody several times, there are subtleties on her voice that add variety and make the songs more engaging.
Unfortunately, the album is inconsistent. Piltdown Man is the outline of a nearly great song, but it’s simply too repetitive with its instrumentation, with its sparse, muddy keyboard chords just not being enough to carry it. There’s not enough going on, for no real reason. A Secret is another example of a song being too sparse for its own good, and its simplicity isn’t compensated for by Quinlan’s vocals, which feel too subdued for their own good on this track. These songs are fairly forgettable, which is a shame because their core melodies are fairly good, and could have easily been turned into something more substantial.
Thankfully, the album picks up towards the end. While the instrumentation remains fairly sparse, songs like Went to LA are varied enough in structure to remain interesting, and Quinlan’s melodies are both memorable and powerful. She begins to really implement her range as a vocalist, with certain parts being understated and quiet, and others being boisterous and loud. With the exception of the cover song Carry The Zero, which is fairly forgettable, the album’s second half is carried by Quinlan’s unique ear for melodies and strong vocal performances.
It’s unfortunate that certain songs on here sound almost unfinished, when they easily could have been made into something more substantial and interesting. But Quinlan proves with this album that she’s capable of writing catchy, captivating music without a full band behind her, and her uniquely passionate vocal style is enough to make this more stripped down style of music compelling when she wants it to.