Need music to keep you occupied while social distancing? Writer Lily Marks walks us through some of her favorite solo projects from this past year.
In an era when personal branding is everything, the name one uses to put out music may carry more significance than ever before. Especially for those bands where the lead singer is often synonymous with the band itself, why chose to release under one’s own name rather than the band? For some, a solo project is a chance to stretch different creative muscles without stepping away from a band completely. For others, releasing music on their own may be the only way to create the music they want to create. Below, we share four solo projects we’ve been listening to this year, that’s we’ve loved as much (if not more than) the bands these artists started with.
Self Esteem: Compliments Please
If you were listening to indie pop from the late aughts to early 2010s, you would recognize the name Rebecca Lucy Taylor from Sheffield-based indie duo Slow Club. The band’s sound evolved over the course of four albums from 2009 to 2016, but in her solo project Self Esteem, Taylor has done something completely new. In contrast to her folksy start, Taylor’s solo music is more pop. Her lyrics are mature and confident, with an edge that sharply contrasts to the cutesy balanced duets from Slow Club’s first album. “Girl Crush,” for example, challenges the notion of same-sex relationships as experiments (Taylor repeats “you don’t owe them anything”), while the penultimate track Rollout asks, “What I might have achieved, if I wasn’t trying to please?” Many of the songs on Compliments Please are breakup songs, but more than declaring herself outside of a relationship, Taylor is declaring herself as an artist outside of the context of the band where she came to fame.
Emily Sprague: Emily Alone
Emily Sprague released her first solo album Emily Alone in July 2019, after making music since 2013 within the trio Florist—which the band has described as a “friendship project.” Florist put out folksy, acoustic songs that often evoke the imagery of walking in the sunlight, finding calmness in nature. Emily Alone, recorded while Sprague was living in LA without her bandmates, conjures a similar gentle feeling, though now she is alone by the ocean rather than in the forests and mountains of upstate New York. Her first track invites us to “just stay slow” on a minimal, vocal-led track, as Sprague reminds herself, “Emily you are not alone.” The songs are led by guitar strums and Sprague’s voice as she details both the bright hopefulness and the dark moments of inner reflection and self-discovery. Emily Alone is a soothing album, inviting us to slow down and walk on our own without feeling alone.
Georgia Maq: Pleaser
As a part of the punk-rock trio Camp Cope, Georgia Maq writes decidedly feminist and righteously angry music. In her first solo album Pleaser, Maq shows listeners a softer side. From the first song, you get the impression that Pleaser will be an acoustic record, like the few singles Maq has released prior to the formation of Camp Cope. But the second track, leading with a clubby drumbeat, pulls us into Maq’s danceable record. The influence of producer (and Maq’s former roommate) Katie Dey is evident in Pleaser’s synth-pop sound. Lyrically, Maq’s songwriting continues to shine, but in a very different way. Rather than the storytelling, reference-heavy lyrics we hear from Camp Cope, Maq provides catchy repeated choruses and melodies. Thematically, Pleaser is about unrequited love, so it is fitting that the album is both vulnerable and relatable.
Frances Quinlan: Likewise
After over a decade as the frontwoman and main songwriter of the indie rock band Hop Along, Frances Quinlan makes her solo debut with Likewise. The result is a quieter, often minimalist sound, drawing the listener closer to Quinlan’s storytelling lyrics. Alongside her distinctive voice and guitar, Quinlan uses a broad range of instruments to support the tone of each song. Most notable is the combination of strings, harp, and synthesizers in “Detroit Lake.” Each song on Likewise uses a snippet of a conversation to encapsulate a broader relationship or theme. From the narrator’s “tired speeches,” to an absurd conversation about cannibalistic pigeons when a pair is out of things to talk about over dinner, to the “impossible questions” that surround a familiar family argument, Quinlan frames everyday conversations that will happen again, but perhaps never be totally resolved. In “A Secret,” a song that circles but never directly names some dark family history, Quinlan repeats “Of course I’ll visit when I can.” The characters in each song try to follow this repeated promise—reaching out to each other even across emotional distances. Between the normal and mundane, Quinlan references fictional stories, climate change, and specific facts like “documentarians tossing lemmings stunned over the edge.” These interruptions set Quinlan’s characters in a broader world, where stories (like the promise to visit home) repeat themselves even if they are never quite true. It’s fitting that the album ends with the line “We should try again to talk.”
Lily Marks is a writer from upstate New York.