Discovery: Hop Along

  Hop Along is a Philadelphia-based rock band.

Hop Along is a Philadelphia-based rock band.

Painted Shut, Hop Along’s second album, came out last spring, gaining relatively quiet but passionate praise. I discovered the album late last fall, and the first thing I noticed is what seems to garner most of the band’s attention: that Voice.

Frances Quinlan has the kind of voice that grates on you at first. It sounds as though singing is physically hurting her, but it’s as though getting out the words is too important to let that stop her. The more you listen to their music, the more nuanced her voice becomes. There’s the yell-y, raspy vocals of her higher register, but when she sings in a lower range, her voice is plainspoken and makes a great vehicle for her impressionistic lyrics.

Painted Shut works for a lot of reasons—the melodies are memorable, there’s lots of layers of piano, acoustic and electric guitar, drums, inventive basslines, and recording flourishes (the DETAILS!), and it has this homemade, ramshackle quality that’s hard to resist. It’s a loud record, but it’s never abrasive. The songs start out with big chunky riffs or powerful chord progressions, and when it seems like there’s nowhere more for the song to build to, Quinlan’s voice explodes and stops you in your tracks. You can’t not be completely spellbound when she repeatedly screeches the phrase “common kind” around the halfway mark of “Waitress.”

The band’s first album, 2012’s Get Disowned, was reissued in February on their new home label, Saddle Creek Records, who released Painted Shut last May. The label is home to other heart-on-your-sleeve bands, most notably Bright Eyes, who bear a fair share of resemblance to Hop Along: the bookish, wordy lyrics, the strange but alluring vocals, the emo-but-still-indie-rock catharsis.

Get Disowned features what may be Hop Along’s best song to date, an anthemic cut called “Tibetan Pop Stars.” Two phrases Quinlan sings in the song demand my attention every time; the first happens when she repeats “nobody deserves you the way that I do,” her voice sounding more and more exhausted each time. A couple lines later, she delivers the line “my love is average,” sounding resigned and defeated. The rest of the song’s lyrics play out like a richly imaginative short story, with evocative imagery of couples cherry-picking in Canada and strangers in India. It’s melancholic and beautiful, and you should listen to it immediately.

Hop Along is the kind of band whose albums are innumerably replayable. I’ve listen to Painted Shut almost everyday for a month now, and more and more is revealed each time, whether it be a sonic detail or an ear-catching lyrical phrase. Quinlan’s writing is so detailed that it scans as deeply personal, but sometimes she delivers lines that feel undeniably universal.                                           

Painted Shut’s centerpiece, a barebones song featuring Quinlan’s acoustic guitar and voice and some harp embellishment called “Happy to See Me,” has a couple of those lines that put everything in perspective: “On the train home I am hoping that I get to be very old / and when I’m old I’ll only see people from my past / and they all will be happy to see me / we all will remember things the same.” It’s powerful and moving, and it makes me hope that when I’m old, Hop Along will still be putting out records.

-Erik Starkman

Scott MeyerMusicComment