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.