Hop Along – Painted Shut

Painted ShutIt takes a certain kind of band to sing about possible paedophilia, joggers running past a funeral procession and avoiding confrontation with your ex-boyfriend while serving him as a waitress. Hop Along pull it off with style on their new album, Painted Shut. The Philadelphia quartet are set to release their full length in May 2015 through Saddle Creek.

The most immediate force to reckon with is the vocal of front woman Frances Quinlan. Ordinarily her voice sits somewhere between Brody Dalle and Regina Spektor, but at times when she stretches her lungs, it’s also comparable to Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak and even Joan Osborne. (No, seriously – go listen to opening song “The Knock”. There’s some 90s beach babe in there, I swear.) The end result is an emotive tone that boasts sweet moments as often as it does guttural despair and anger, usually within the same song. Quinlan’s weapon of choice builds and flourishes throughout Painted Shut, releasing its full attack on penultimate track and album highlight “Well-dressed”.

Quinlan’s voice also lends to Hop Along’s adaptability. A lot of these songs, most noticeably the tender “Texas Funeral” and “Happy to See Me”, could be altered to represent an acoustic singer songwriter’s fare. More up-tempo tracks such as “Buddy in the Parade” and grand finale “Sister Cities” stray closer to beach wave territory. Faced with unexpected atmosphere and stages of varying size, I doubt Hop Along will ever find themselves in a situation where they have no material to suit. At the same time, Painted Shut is consistently unique and utterly cohesive. Hop Along may borrow from multiple sources of water, but this cool lagoon is wholly their own.

The content of Painted Shut swings between presumably personal, or at least standard experience (“Horseshoe Crabs”, “Waitress”, “The Knock”) to what is hopefully not (“Powerful Man”, if only because it references Quinlan distinguishing a young boy as the title of the song: “I was eighteen, you were eight, maybe you were ten”). Some ("Texas Funeral", "Happy to See Me") are so honest it almost hurts to listen to them, but in a really good way. Stylistically there are nougats of harmonious glory throughout the album, but standout track “Well-dressed” wins the title of star contender hands down. Well composed, it draws on every aspect of the band’s resume without swamping its four minutes in sticky sour and sweet. It also ends in a bellow of heartfelt, choking words and percussion that practically knock you out, they're so powerful.

Prior to Painted Shut we have to admit, we paid this band little attention. Now, we feel more than a little stupid. This could well shove equally well anticipated albums out of the way home the end of the year.

Release: 4th May 2015, Saddle Creek

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