Hop Along - Painted Shut (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Hop Along

Painted Shut (2015)

Saddle Creek Records

If you're an indie-rock fan who hasn't heard Get Disowned then you're probably living in a rocky labyrinth more intricate than Bin Laden's. Or Crete's Minotaur. Hop Along became strong contenders for the poster-band for the indie genre with the release of this masterpiece in 2012 - unheralded but quickly found to be one of the most unrelenting opus of the past five years. If there was ever any doubt to them staking claim as top dog, Painted Shut quickly removes those concerns and reinforces the band's place atop the pyramid. Concreted firmly above the rest; humbly and shyly (as lead vocalist Frances Quinlan usually is) smiling down wondering if they're ready to cope with the pressure and acclaim that 2012 should have rightfully earned them.

First off, Frances is a sweetheart. The melodies she crafts are beautifully intimate, brutally honest and to put it best, an unfettered rollercoaster of emotions. Her songwriting's always been one of the band's strongest points and Painted Shut maintains that consistency. All of this is well-reflected in every cracked note and in every strained wail as she distills purpose from each of life's moments. "Waitress" is a prime example of this. Power-guitars over pop/low tempo melodies that blend together with such an unconventional but soothing soft-loud dynamic. This song's about her experience as an 18 year-old recalling a meaningful incident (hinted as bullying of a child) and her inexperience in dealing with the situation. The delivery's coyly done and echoes how introverted Quinlan is. Furthermore, this track shows how well done a sequel this record is to Get Disowned in terms of being evocative, restless and quietly intense. The same can be said for tracks like "Horseshoe Crabs" and the acoustic "Happy To See Me" - both soul-searing, restless and angsty, much like the body of Hop Along's work. It's really intuitive in terms of how muted and controlled it flows (allowing Quinlan to wax on and on) before it gets unrestrained and painfully gorgeous.

Mark Quinlan backs up nicely on drums making their sound that much simpler and that much sweeter. Joe Reinhart's (ex-Algernon Cadwallader) guitars accompany things in a more dominant fashion this time around with twangy folk riffs hidden behind power chords. His cutting solos are smartly scattered about Mark's kitwork to make the music hit even more. They come together so minimally yet so well-timed. By the time Hop Along get louder in the foreground, you're already soaking in the groundswell of conversation Frances dredges up. "Texas Funeral" exemplifies this with layers of passion mounted on layers of tension. Again, it'd be over-simplification to call them melodic or catchy because Hop Along's brand of music focuses on lulls and deep flourishes with subtle rock effects that fly the indie mast like few other can. They demo'd a lot of these songs and you do feel the perfectionist vibe. Jogging back to Reinhart, it's definitely one of their most guitar-driven collectives, which range from stressed to offbeat, but still one tethered to the albums of old. Hop Along's knack to remain grounded amid Reinhart's newfound freedom (overly expressive in his plethora of whippy riffs) further stretches into "Powerful Man". It's a good shift in style and one that isn't too in-your-face.

As much as fans connect Hop Along to Philly's DIY scene, I like how Frances links the album to where her musical roots began in Baltimore (which she's been vocal about given the sordid state of affairs there at present). She does well to link threads and sub-plots from both areas into one big novel and again, as a musical accomplishment, the ideals and ideas conveyed are met with such sincerity. Once more, the band paints vivid imagery of optimism, cynicism and powerlessness. Frances touches on success, aspirations in America and how unreasonable life gets when smashed to pieces. All in all, it's a relatable record that touches on religion, providence, the poor people and even indulges in topics like mental illness. Covering a variety of issues like this could well make for too heavy a listen in terms of content but if it's one band that can wisely translate all this to you and have you foot-tapping and air-guitaring, it's these guys. Painted Shut is a phenomenal follow-up to 2012 and one that'll be creepin' on you so hard. No longer is Hop Along the world's best-kept secret...