Hop Along – Painted Shut

by Peter Giunta (Biology), published June 30th 2015

Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!

a3778453976_10When Hop Along dropped the “Queen Ansleis” part of their name in 2012, it was as if a window of cynicism had slammed shut onto the fingers of the listening public.  Gone was the beady-eyed optimism that inspired the band’s name in the first place, back when a college-age Frances Quinlan told listeners to “sing your song” despite what your guidance counselor may tell you.  The acoustic guitar and playfully double-tracked vocals were tabled in favor of a distinctly punk aesthetic, and adulthood cultivated a rasp in her voice that echoed weariness beyond her years.

Cynicism is certainly a tenet in the wrenching thesis of Painted Shut. However, the word is inadequate, as it misses the little indignities that have fostered Quinlan’s deep mistrust of the outside world. Each song is a new vignette, and a tiny but perceptible blow to her psyche.

The devastation in each track is deceptive but linked through various refrains.  In “Waitress,” Quinlan laments her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend “stick[ing] around” after closing time.  Each repetition of the refrain feels like a twist of the forearm in opposite directions, a sentiment amplified by Quinlan’s constant volleying between sonic and ultrasonic vocal ranges.  At its best, the effect is akin to motion sickness for astronauts, echoing a sort of disillusionment in unreality.  In practical terms the album solidifies Quinlan’s as one of the most fervent voices in indie music to date.

The album deals frequently in decay and death, with ideas almost too well formed for a group in their mid-twenties.   However, the novelty here is in how Quinlan plans to degenerate, through a slow and fearful turn from the outside world.  On “Powerful Man,” Quinlan retells her witnessing of a child being abused by his father, and how a nearby teacher refused to take action.  On both “Buddy in the Parade” and “Well-Dressed,” we get the image of Quinlan being “buried many times” by society.  All this serves to “build a freeway around [her] bed,” and to make her grow old in solitude.  Between that and the fate of her dog in “Sister Cities,” listeners can feel the “asscrack of dawn” receding toward them.

The instrumentation on the album is refreshingly diversified from Get Disowned, including significant contributions from piano, marimba, harp and organ.  However, the album does meander in places.  The group doesn’t really need a chorus to write their message in magma, though occasionally it feels that the band has been told by Quinlan to “watch me for the changes” and has to adjust too frequently to gather a cohesive melody.

Despite the bleakness endemic to the album, it will long serve as catharsis to listeners who feel that the world has “gotten so small and embarrassing.”  The stories here aren’t so specific as to be inaccessible, and there are hundreds of little crawl spaces in each track to occupy.  In a rare display of emotional maturity, Hop Along’s sophomore LP demonstrates the human ability to hop through life, even as it gets a little harder to do so.

Recommended Tracks: “Waitress,” “Sister Cities,” and “Powerful Man”

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