Now signed to Saddle Creek records – a label that has been home to the likes of Bright Eyes, Cursive and The Thermals – Hop Along released their eagerly anticipated sophomore album ‘Painted Shut’ earlier this year. A concept album of sorts, it focuses on two fairly unknown musicians, Buddy Bolden and Jackson C. Frank, who were both plagued with mental illness right through to their heartbreaking demises.
Hop Along started life as a solo folk project for Frances Quinlan over a decade ago and you can hear this on the opening ‘The Knock’, a song with the intriguing repeated line of: ‘The witness just wants to talk to you’ and the decidedly dark and foreboding: ‘Did you see the look on the face of the teenager he brought with him?’ Joe Reinhart’s riffs are expertly spliced with Frances’ stunning vocals to capture the emotive nature of the song. ‘Horseshoe Crabs’ is an altogether lighter affair, in the music at least, while Frances fiercely embodies the personality of the character in the song as she states: ‘Against your wishes, I went into the woods alone’. There’s also a devilish sense of humour shining through even as the song reaches darker depth, especially with mentions about being at the ‘arse-crack of time’. Although a slow-burner, the song reaches its dramatic climax with some of Frances’ perfectly pitched yelps.
‘Waitress’ was one of the record’s lead singles and you can easily see why. It goes from pure jangly pop goodness to Karen O-style screams that instantly bring about goosebumps in a nano-second. Sharon Van Etten’s mixture of personal regrets and poignant melodies are brought to mind by the gorgeous yet gloomy ‘Happy to See Me’. A respite from the rockier moments, it finds Frances reminiscing about how we all remember things we’d rather regret and even has am observation about the general public’s reliance on YouTube self-help videos.
‘Powerful Man’ is the story of a boy and a girl – but it might not be the one you’re expecting. ‘He said he’s not gonna help you’ firstly indicating the man is not someone you’d want to know, before Frances reveals a friend convinced her to turn around and go back to him. What follows after this is murky warnings from unhappy teachers. Spectacularly spellbinding in the vocals, there’s also a classic US songwriting vibe in the instrumentation. ‘I Saw My Twin’ has a more electronic feel, randomly but brilliantly bringing to mind Fight Like Apes in its opening, as it finds Frances giving a detailed account of a this ‘twin’ working the tables at a waffle house.
Packed with power and emotion, much of the album was recorded as live and the fights and grapples the band – and their subjects – encounter feel very real, but it’s all delivered in such positive style. A step up for Hop Along, you’ll hope they’re not painted shut forever, and that they’ll open the doors for a whole new batch of fans.