Since their formation in the late 2000s, Philadelphia’s Hop Along has created music that captures the aura and control of an ageless short story. Building their compositions around the words of lead singer and writer, Frances Quinlan, Hop Along’s songs are vivid, experimenting with the type of pointed melody that heightens the perspective and impact of each individual narrative. Vulnerable, even when it’s aggressive, each measure of music is tied to the words in a way that feels as though they are reacting to one another. Released this past May, their first release on Saddle Creek Records, Painted Shut, has only reinforced their ability to build a song into a suspenseful chronicle of a feeling or idea, as vocals, drums, bass and guitar convey and respond to each reveal. Quickly prompting genuflection and wonderment from nearly every national media outlet, their latest album revels in sonic tremors that thrill, breathing life into verses that form character studies of a multitude of themes including concern, nostalgia and longing.
“The Witness just wants to talk to you”
Throughout Painted Shut, singer-guitarist Frances Quinlan, drummer Mark Quinlan, bassist Tyler Long and guitarist Joe Reinhart frame their melodies around lyrical observations that serve as detonations. Riotous without being unfeeling, these moments lead to eruptions of sound communicating the grievances, uncertainties and desires that lie within the stream of events that fill up a day. Setting that tone from the beginning, album opener “The Knock,” takes the fairly mundane occurrence of a Jehovah’s Witness planting their feet beneath every door in a neighborhood and transforms it into something that feels genuinely tense and affecting. And just like a short story, the word count is small but the implications are big. The image of a door as a symbol of opportunities, mistakes and sheer unpredictability takes the song to another place altogether. For centuries it has acted as a motif of totality and consequence, and the band makes its presence feel powerful. When Quinlan sings, “At the door came the knock,” the music breathes louder before taking a pause, her voice stretching out the last note just before the band comes back in. And in those few seconds, everything feels crucial, almost final as the song’s characters decide whether or not to let a new person with new ideas into their ears and into their home.
“How long it took to reach the Sister Cities”
Closing out the record, “Sister Cities” is an unbroken rush of pure, undiluted energy. Visceral, engaging and raw, it highlights the group’s gift for wrapping their words in rich, absorbing melodies. The interplay between the musicians forms the foundation of the song, which steadily emerges as a complex story that finds Quinlan pleading, “Help, my uncle’s gone insane,” as she observes him from his hospital room. Mimicking the twists and turns of a novel, each verse is a visually arresting portrayal of the circumstances behind one man’s deterioration and unraveling. Rife with striking imagery, lines like “Outside, the old dog, resigned leaves heavy tracks for the father, dragging the rifle to find,” presents information in a way that makes each verse feel like it’s own independent scene. Although the real charm of the song and the album is that the band knows how to sew them all together. Natural, cohesive and focused, the record pairs dark themes with melodies that are wholly brisk and bustling. And for that, Painted Shut lets a little more light in than its title would suggest.
Article: Caitlin Phillips