As a kid, I remember visiting Cleveland’s biggest lakefront park with my friends, all of us gathering at the willow tree. For many of us geeks, this is what would be our first act of rebellion — we decide to pass the then-ominous NO TRESPASSING signs to scale the breakwall.
This meanders all the way from the willow tree to the pier alongside the shoe. The breakwall was a carefully curated set of cut rocks designed to preserve the lakefront, but to us, it was an endless row of crags challenging us to prove ourselves. Once we reached the end, the sun’s heat felt warmer, the breeze stronger, and we all felt sincerely accomplished.
It’s these fleeting feelings of triumph that come up when I hear Arkansas-based Frances Grove’s newest EP, Sophie. Frances Grove is the solo project of Grace Walker, a guitarist and singer-songwriter whose knack for hook-laced pop has me in a state of reminiscence. While scaling that breakwall with my friends was truly inconsequential, Sophie is a real triumph, an exercise in preserving ephemeral images and sensations with the kinds of catchy, youthful hooks that remind me of when my problems were smaller.
“Sophie is a real triumph, an exercise in preserving ephemeral images and sensations with the kinds of catchy, youthful hooks that remind me of when my problems were smaller.”
“Next To You,” in particular, evokes memories I had of my first crushes after realizing my gay identity:
I wanna lay right next to you /
It might ease my mind
I want to lay next to you /
It might ease my mind
That desire for proximity above all else is echoed in her instrumentation — Walker’s voice and layered guitar lines sound woven together snugly, intimately. I can remember feeling like achieving that proximity, that intimacy, was impossible — and while I try not to dwell on that feeling anymore, “Next To You” is the avenue through which that feeling is seen, acknowledged, and then gently packed away.
“Walker’s vulnerability is palpable and disarming. It forces me out of the nostalgic haze of the previous tracks and bear witness.”
“Sophie” and “Post” are two of my absolute favorites – uptempo, sometimes sentimental, sometimes tragic – both tracks project vitality and concentrated emotion. They feel like montages, best captured by albums of Polaroid pictures that freeze a moment and an emotion in time. “Misunderstood” shakes the vibe of the EP with acoustic guitar at the forefront while Walker cries: “Take me as I am, I hate being misunderstood.” Walker’s vulnerability is palpable and disarming. It forces me out of the nostalgic haze of the previous tracks and bear witness.
For me, listening to Sophie is a welcome chance to wallow in bright, summery guitar hooks as I buckle down to endure another Ohio winter. Frances Grove leaves me with a tinge of nostalgia, just enough to sustain me through the bitter cold.