Quinn XCII’s sophomore album built on his previous work to perfect what he does best. “From Michigan With Love” flaunts Quinn’s most essential elements: creative electro-pop beats and smooth, lighthearted vocals.
Quinn writes his beats with obsessive creativity — these are not songs you skip halfway through. Each phrase taunts the listener to guess where he’ll go next. And you’ll never get it right because Quinn is surprising and elusive.
Beyond the impressive synth instrumentals, which shouldn’t be overlooked, Quinn’s lyrics show rare depth for an artist so early in his career. “From Michigan With Love,” is much more than a love album. Quinn reveals mental health issues and feelings of inadequacy as the album progresses, tying them into an overarching theme of a challenging but ultimately rewarding relationship.
The second song on the album, “Autopilot,” introduces mental obstacles that lend to Quinn’s difficult love life. He feels subject to the whims of his aggressively dynamic lifestyle and racing thoughts. “So baby, just hold me/‘til I turn back to the old me/there’s some demons I need to cleanse,” he sings.
This song’s title comes from his perceived mental state — unable to think about his emotions in a meaningful way, Quinn feels like he can’t control his thoughts. Quinn may be speaking to an increasingly common condition in young adults whose brains were trained on fast-paced, distraction-laden social media: ADHD.
One person affected by ADHD described it like this: “My mind is in a fog that I can’t clear. A thousand thoughts race through my head all at once.”
Despite setbacks like this, Quinn is determined that “Life Must Go On,” which is the title of the next song. Even though his “world’s burning down,” Quinn recognizes the importance of perseverance in the follow-up track.
Fun fact about Quinn: his real name is Mike. In college, one of his professors used the motto, “Quit unless your instincts are never neglected,” which Quinn described as “pursuing anything you love when you have nothing inside telling you to stop it.” He shaped the motto into an acronym for a stage name, adding the Roman numerals XCII to represent his birth year, 1992.
With the eighth song on the album, “When I Die,” Quinn counters the mental fuzziness of “Autopilot” by describing how he feels when he’s next to his fiancee. “’Cause we’re both here, keeping our breath under control…When I die, it’s this I’ll remember.” In contrast to “Autopilot,” Quinn now is anchored to the moment; his mind is no longer racing, reaching for some sort of meaning. He has all the meaning he could ever ask for.
In “Sad Still,” Quinn is the only person in the room. He’s not alone though: he has his “cabinet full of orange vials.” He challenges the viability of treating anxiety and depression with medication: “We take this red pill, green pill, black pill/ I know deep down, we’re sad still,” he sings. The beat accelerates and intensifies. He’s back on autopilot.
Throughout the album, Quinn feels inadequate compared with his fiancee. This, along with racing thoughts, anxiety, and substance use, seem to virtually ruin him. Only her gentle reassurance can bring him back.
Often, Quinn’s lyricism feels too hasty for the subject matter. Some of these songs would sound wonderful in a bluesballad style. With Quinn’s expert instrumental skills, this shouldn’t be difficult.
Quinn also seems to try his hand at rapping — or something close to it. Particularly in a portion of “When I Die,” Quinn develops a creative rhyme scheme and a quick lyrical tempo. Developing this experiment into a full song rather than an interlude would broaden his versatility as an artist.
Quinn spent a year and a half on “From Michigan With Love” and called it his “most challenging body of work.” His dedication shows — for the sake of his music, let’s hope he lives up to his name.