Frances Quinlan, Likewise (Saddle Creek)
"Likewise" is the first album that Philadelphia’s Frances Quinlan officially has released under her name. It’s not her first as a solo artist, though: She used to record as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis while a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art in the mid-2000s.
She dropped the second half of the name as Hop Along grew to become the acclaimed four-piece rock band, most recently heard on "Bark Your Head Off, Dog."
With eight new songs and a cover of Built To Spill’s “Carry The Zero,” Likewise does not amount to a severe break from her band. It was co-produced by Hop Along guitarist Joe Reinhart at his Headroom studio in Kensington. Nevertheless, it’s a record that benefits from her stepping away from a familiar creative structure.
Quinlan specializes in writing story songs that challenge the listener to piece together a narrative. Her remarkable whisper-to-a-scream voice makes the emotional thrust hard to miss, but with the band rocked out behind her, her songs can get dense with detail.
On Likewise, they open up and breathe. The space, and the silences, make the strife of “Detroit Lake” or the desperation at the end of “I Went To L.A.” — as Quinlan’s increasingly raw voice repeats the words “Heaven is a second chance” — that much more deeply felt.
It helps, too, that the music is so varied. This isn’t a back-to-basics solo album of strummy acoustic guitars. The arrangements are spare, but there is experimentation with keyboards, strings, and beats that gesture toward the dance floor, while maintaining a playful, light touch. It’s the best kind of band leader’s solo departure, opening up new creative avenues for Quinlan, while also emphasizing her strengths.
Marcus King, El Dorado (Easy Eye Sound)
“Too much of that ole whiskey river leaves a young man feeling old,” Marcus King confesses on “Too Much Whiskey.” King is, indeed, a young man — the South Carolina native is just 23 — but he also comes across as an old soul.
The singer/guitarist/songwriter already had established himself as an exceptional triple-threat talent, and an heir to the Muscle Shoals tradition with his masterful amalgamation of rock, soul, country and blues on albums he made with his band.
Here, producer Dan Auerbach, of the Black Keys (and impeccable taste), takes the reins, co-writing the songs with King (and others) and surrounding him with a stable of stellar Nashville musicians.
Starting with “Young Man’s Dream,” the results deepen the beyond-his-years quality of King’s work, and his ties to the roots from which his inspiration springs. Many tracks unfold at a leisurely pace and ooze a country-soul vibe. A couple are also accented by strings. That’s not to say King has turned into strictly a balladeer. The punchy R&B of “Too Much Whiskey” and the rousing blues-rock of “The Well” and “Say You Will” make that abundantly clear.
Destroyer, Have We Met (Merge)
Dan Bejar has made a long career out of unpredictability. He’s the mastermind of Destroyer, but his Vancouver, B.C.-based band shifts constantly. Musically, his albums have veered from glam rock to yacht rock; lyrically, they have gone from prolix screeds to cryptic missives.
"Have We Met," the 13th Destroyer album, turns to synth-pop. It’s slightly reminiscent of 2004’s keyboard-based Your Blues, but it’s more sophisticated, nuanced and destabilized.
Bejar collaborates with his longtime producer (and sometimes New Pornographers bandmate) John Collins and guitarist Nicolas Bragg, and they create settings where sounds bubble in and out of the mix, locking into chipper hooks (“It Just Doesn’t Happen”) or turning to dissonance (“Kinda Dark”).
“Just look at the world around you/Actually, no, don’t look!,” Bejar sings in “The Raven.” That mix of morbid curiosity and horrified disbelief dominates Have We Met, even though the songs are rarely linear: They’re full of striking pronouncements and non-sequitur humor (see the self-reflexive “Cue Synthesizer”).
Each Destroyer release creates a fascinating world, but then Bejar walks away from it. These songs, no doubt, will sound radically different with a full band at Underground Arts next month.