Hop Along – Painted Shut
Saddle Creek
3 out of 5

Whilst the first few listens of Painted Shut show it to be an upbeat record of punk-inspired indie-pop, any more time spent with it than that, and the darker, more vulnerable narrative of the album becomes discernible. Almost as if singer Frances Quinlan’s gravelly vocals wear away at the frothy pop-rock veneer, before it shatters, allowing the wealth of self-doubt and anxiety to flow from within.

Taking cues from the ’90s and ’60s in equal measure, Painted Shut shows itself to be a record that blends together the sentiment of college rock and emo, with traditional pop melody and smatterings of lite-folk. As a result, those tracks which allow Hop Along to appear the most upbeat, those which have you sing along first, are often those with the darkest narrative back-boning them. ‘Powerful Man’ for instance, sees Quinlan as the teenage bystander, as a parent hits their child. “I was the only other adult around” she laments, both dissident and regretfully guilty.

With an overarching theme loosely telling the story of two relatively unknown musicians Buddy Bolden and Jackson C. Frank, both of whom were plagued by mental illness “until their penniless deaths”, it’s easy to see where the records almost-tangible emotion comes from. Quinlan’s vocals, whilst fraught at best, are pushed almost to the point of breaking come the conclusion of ‘Waitress’ whilst following track ‘Happy to See Me’ harks back to her early musical endeavours as a solo artist; the lone acoustic guitar bringing about some welcome respite at the halfway point.

Whilst all the stops and starts, the false build ups and angular guitars of the composition reflect the erratic nature of Painted Shut’s narrative, Hop Along feel most at home with the more rounded tracks on offer. ‘Horseshoe Crabs’ neo-country for instance, or the aforementioned ‘Waitress’ prior to its breakdown, both mental and musical.

That said, when compared to their 2012 debut, Painted Shut feels far less fractured, and is actually a more cohesive listen, though that makes it no less easy to digest once the bubblegum loses its flavour. It is a record that rewards those who keep chewing though, and by the time the anarchic conclusion of final track ‘Sister Cities’ has played out for the twentieth time, you can’t help feel comfortable in Hop Along’s company, despite their agonising self-doubt and anxieties.

Dave Beech