Hop aboard the Hop Along bandwagon

Painted Shut, Hop Along’s most recent offering, is absolutely phenomenal. It will populate the upper reaches of year-end lists. Go pre-order it from Saddle Creek Records right now.

It’s also a fairly odd album. Painted Shut is excellent from its opening seconds, but those opening seconds are a misdirection. “The Knock” starts off with jangly guitar blasts and the type of cool, detached female vocals Katie and Allison Crutchfield employ to great effect in their respective Waxahatchee and Swearin’ projects.

Frances Quinlan’s voice and a tuneful riff hint at large, shout-along choruses, but they never really come. Painted Shut is all the better for their absence.

While Hop Along deviate from expectations, they don’t entirely subvert genre. Painted Shut evokes elements of ’90s alternative rock, but instead of Shirley Manson, Quinlan tends to dial up an intense scream reminiscent of early Nirvana recordings.

Instead, short compulsive thoughts then to percolate out of Quinlan repeatedly until they’re also lodged in the listeners brain.

This means punchy, phrases consisting of mostly monosyllabic words such as, “The witness just wants to talk to you,”, “None of this is gonna happen to me,” and “I just though he looked like a powerful man,” generally constitute the hooks of these songs.

However, stilted delivery, throat-shredding intensity and odd rhythm keep the repetition from being rote. It’s really difficult to guess whether a proceeding phrase will be delivered in a breathy falsetto or yowled.

These simple, repeated sentences also stand in contrast to verbose, detail oriented lyrics that set the scene for howling, emotional climaxes, which make them all the more infectious.

Obviously, my big takeaway from this tremendous album is that Quinlan’s voice is incredible, but Painted Shut would be a kickass rock album with less outstanding vocals.

Album opener “The Knock” builds tension before expertly exploding. Elsewhere, a variety of differently stylized, memorable guitar licks abound.. Sometimes, this variance takes place in the same song. For example, on standout  “Texas Funeral” verses are accompanied by a twangy southwestern sound, but collapse under crashing waves of reverb noise, which ultimately recede and allow for a genuine guitar solo.  he audible intensity results in a sort of palpable catharsis.

Painted Shut is a fairly short album, consisting of 10 songs and clocking in around 40 minutes, which makes it perfect for compulsive re-spins, which are absolutely necessary, because it’s almost impossible to dislodge Hop Along’s music from your brain.

While the songs on this album often focus on characters with some degree of moral reprehensibility or who are grappling with pain (either physical or emotional) they are always an absolute joy to listen to.

The Heart wants what it wants

Today, it occurred to me that a lot of excellent songs have titles containing the word “Heart”. After appreciating this truth, I decided I should arbitrarily rank them and create a playlist based upon the results.

While this exercise was initially prompted by the song “Heartbeat” by Cloud Nothings, I decided to exclude song titles, which include the words “Heartbeat” or “Heatless”. I also tried to skip songs I’ve written about before, or plan to write about,  so “Open your Heart” by The Men and “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” by Wilco were cut. Oddly, this also eliminated “Heart in a Cage” by the Strokes.

Anyway, in honor of the worst Planeteer, Ma-Ti, here are the best songs with “Heart” in the title.

1. “Heart of Glass” by Blondie.

This was incredibly easy. “Heart of Glass” is a stone-cold classic and an absolute jam. While it may represent Blondie selling out and embracing a commercially appealing disco song, it is also probably the single greatest song that genre ever produced.

2. “Young Hearts Spark Fire” by Japandroids.

Shockingly, this song was not event clearly the best Japandroids “Heart” song. It wasn’t even clearly the best “Heart” song on Post-Nothing. “Heart Sweats” is pretty awesome and devolves into a raucous scream-along when performed live. However, “Young Hearts Spark Fire” pretty much encapsulates Japandroids’ nihilism with a sighed admission of mortality aesthetic.  “We used to dream/ Now we worry about dying/ I don’t wanna worry about dying/ I just want to worry about those sunshine girls” sums it up beautifully.

3. “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)”

This Bobby “Blue” Bland sampling hit features one of the best beats Kanye West ever produced. It is also arguably the best song on Jay-z’s best album. This automatically catapults it onto this playlist.

4. “Heart in Your Heartbreak” by the Pains of Being Pure at Hear

This song is wordplay about heartbreak over a springy, twee bass-line. It’s pleasant enough, and then a surprisingly gruff guitar bridge hits, and suddenly it’s the fourth best song featuring the word “Heart” in my iTunes library.

5. “Heart Skipped a Beat” by The xx

Although, “Intro” is by far the breakout song from The xx’s eponymous debut, “Heart Skipped a Beat” is by far my favorite song by The XX. Of course, I’m a sucker for guy-girl trade off vocals, and the stuttering drumming meant to evoke a heartbeat is a nice touch.

It’s all fun and games until Chance the Rapper lobs some uncomfortable emotional truth

“Baby Blue” is the fourth single from Action Bronson’s solid debut major label effort, and for the most part, it’s a breezy kiss off to an unpleasant ex. Despite a chorus referring to Bronsolino’s old flame as a bitch, the song mostly eschews misogyny in favor of emphasizing a disconnect between Bronson’s sense of self-worth and the mistreatment he suffered through.

Despite the subject matter, “Baby Blue” is never morose. Over jaunty piano, the large, Albanian MC from Queens creates a snapshot of unrequited and unappreciated acts of affection, and captures the sense of satisfaction striving for self-improvement after a breakup provides.

“Baby Blue” features a brief verse from Chance the Rapper, who I generally find phenomenal. At first, the 20-something rapper seems to be entirely vindictive, wishing non-sequitor ill will on his ex. However, shortly after expressing a desire to see rats defecate in his ex’s kitchen, Chance provides a painfully salient look at the emotions involved with electing to remove someone from your life.

“I hope your tears don’t hurt, and I can smile in your face
Cut my losses, how Delilah changed my locks to a fade
I hope you happy, I hope you happy
I hope you ruined this shit for a reason, I hope you happy,”

It’s interesting enough that the a song, which includes a joke about, “white snake in underwear sauce” includes a biblical allusion, but it’s even more interesting that the emotional climax of a mischievous diss track is a desire for a mutually beneficial break up, so Chano doesn’t feel the guilt that comes from hurting someone. It also adds a poignancy to the everything preceding it, because it establishes that the relationship was something of value to be ruined and the only justifiable reason to cause its ruin would be true happiness.

This song is hardly overlooked or under-appreciated, but I think it displays an amazing amount of pathos for a song built around a Mark Ronson-produced, Billy Joel-esque piano groove that dares the listener to imagine Action Bronson nude in a Lamborghini.

Panda Bear- “Mr Noah”

“Mr Noah” is the standout track from the pretty darn good Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. It is a stupendously weird song, and it announces its oddness immediately. Bestial squeaks precede hypnotically looped guitar, which sounds ripped from the ’90s Spider-Man intro. A woozy, off-balance atmosphere is established before Noah Lennox’s spacy vocals are even present.

Surrounded by aural oddness, repetitive, hyper-literal lyrics concerning an injured, lazy dog  seem perfectly at home. It helps that the song’s chorus is made unbelievably catchy courtesy of a stuttered vowel in the word leg.

“Mr Noah” is a strange track, but it’s disparate parts coalesce to make a wonderful, soupy earworm.

A theory about band names

This is a link to a column I wrote for work. In a rambling, semi-coherent way it explains my theory that if a band is named after a place, the population of that place affects a band’s quality. As population increases, the band’s quality decreases.

Although the premise is spoiled, it’s still a sort of funny column and sort of worth reading. I provide several examples, ignore a lot of counterexamples and relied solely on Google for population figures.

Obviously, it’s a modern masterpiece.