Album Review: Hop Along – Painted Shut

Back in December 2013, I tried in vain to get Hop Along’s ‘Get Disowned’ to crack Already Heard’s yearly top ten. If memory serves, once all the points had been tallied up, it stood in 11th place, infuriatingly kept from enjoying what little recognition we can dish out here. I sorely craved for people to experience the magnetic power of Frances Quinian’s unpredictable vocal acrobatics and the earnestness of her songwriting, a fragile ode to our protean emotionality. ‘Get Disowned’ felt like the musical equivalent of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’, a beautiful mess of feelings.

Straight off the bat, ‘Painted Shut’ is an inferior effort to their previous album, it’s also rather good. Two years on, there appears to have been no need to shuffle things around or tinker with the formula: Quinian is still the band’s mesmerizing focal point, the songwriting is still deliciously unusual as to often feel closer to on-the-spot improvisation than traditional song structure, and the tracks still hit home. There was just never any chance the immediacy of ‘Get Disowned’ would be emulated that easily.

Nevertheless, ‘Painted Shut’ has genuine sky-high peaks. ‘Waitress’, undoubtedly a highlight, sees Quinian’s vocals at their most impressive, silky and sweet one second, exploding with raw ferocity the next. She serves as our emotional guide into the labyrinth of twists and turns that is the core of Hop Along’s style. ‘Well Dressed’ is the closest the band will ever get to a ballad. A neurotic stroll inside the mind of Quinian gradually builds up before ending in a sweet sing-along moment.

Hop Along rewards multiple listens. Those first few spins will undoubtedly confound many, but these songs have a way of digging under your skin and catching you unaware. Some bands I’m willing to accept are not for everybody, but Hop Along have such a strong and unique identity that I cannot possibly do anything other than heartily recommend that EVERYBODY listen to them. You don’t know it yet, but you need this band in your life.

3.5/5

‘Painted Shut’ by Hop Along is out now on Saddle Creek Records.

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Words by James Berclaz-Lewis (@bearclawlewis)

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