Painted Shut by Hop Along
Some albums bring you back to a place in time. Some remind you of a season. As we welcome in summer, I want to talk about an album that sounds like summer to me.
One of the artists I wrote about when talking about albums that got me through the pandemic was Hop Along lead singer Frances Quinlan. That album Likewise was on repeat during long walks with my since-deceased black lab, Jezebel. This week as I officially welcomed summer with some time off with my family, I was walking once again with Frances’ voice in my ears, but it wasn’t the solo record. This time Frances’ sibling and drummer Mark Quinlan joins Joe Reinhart and Tyler Long backing up the powerful Janis-Joplin-esque singer. And as I was walking along Chautauqua Lake in 2022, I was right back in the summer of 2015 with those iconic songs warming up my ears as much as the 8 a.m. sun on my back.
I listened to that album on repeat in August of 2015 during my family vacation to Charleston South Carolina. I am afraid to guess how many times I played it in the car on the way there. We always broke that trip up in those days with a night in the Charlotte area because Cleveland to Charleston was just too much to bear. My kids were five and two years old and we spent a lazy week walking on the beach and taking underwater photos and videos in the pool with my GoPro. It’s my kind of vacation. We go someplace and load up the kitchen with groceries and sort of just move in for a week. I’m an uber-geek so I had all the toys including the Bluetooth speaker, which was a little less common in 2015 than it is today. I couldn’t take the chance that we wouldn’t be able to play music during dinner! And sure, we do a bit of sight-seeing and occasionally eat out or get ice cream, but it’s not a time to go go go, at least not for us. That’s where Painted Shut fits in so well.
Take “Horseshoe Crabs,” for example. The third song on the record starts sparsely and somewhat sadly. I have no idea what it’s about, but the way the song gets jangly at the end and seems to resolve, it doesn’t really leave me feeling sad. “When I was young, they used to find me pitching horseshoe crabs, back into the sun.” Again, I don’t know what this song is actually about, but the imagery is so on the nose when you’re with your young family on the ocean.
Let’s talk about explosions because this band is at its best when they’re building to an explosive guitar part or a guttural vocal from Frances. When the band kicks in during “Waitress” and Frances is singing, “You and some others stick around!” it’s just the ultimate payoff for a song. One of the band’s most popular songs in their live show to this day is the album opener, “The Knock.” I feel like I’ve written about this song before, but it bears repeating. At about 2:30 when the guitars break into dueling power chords with an arpeggiated lead, it’s crushing in all the best ways. It’s the kind of section to a song that any musician will wish they had written for themselves.
These songs helped highlight all the fun we had as a family. These songs are the perfect blend of jangly indie rock with a tiny bit of punk and emo edge. You’ll be going along with a song like “Texas Funeral” and some of its angst and then it ends with a celebratory flourish almost out of nowhere. “Powerful Man” is a song that borders on playfulness with the sound of the chorus and the almost-squealing lead guitar in the background.
I can’t go through every track, but I have to mention “Well-Dressed” and “Sister Cities” specifically. I love everything on this record, but it’s incredible to finish this album in such a strong fashion. I remember when I first heard this record I felt like “Well-Dressed” was a perfect album ender with all its key-change falsetto doo-doos. The song kills live because it kills on the album. If you were going to follow “Well-Dressed” and replace it as a would-be album closer, “Sister Cities” is a worthy choice. I’m not sure I would have done it that way, but it’s not “wrong” per se. It’s a raucous jam in its own right. And just when you think it’s finished, it’s got another celebratory minute of music that makes you want to bounce like you’re in a movie montage dancing while you get the job done.
For me, it’s the sound of dancing awkwardly with my kids to music in the kitchen after dinner. The song finally collapses into itself like a family knowing it was time to stop because of laughter.
It’s a great album in its own right, and I don’t know how the biggest Hop Along fans associate it to their lives, but my associations are vivid and clear. As we enter summer for real with the 4th of July and on into August, I can’t bring back those days from when my kids were little. I can’t go back in time for real, but I also know as I create new memories with my family this week, I know what I’ll be playing on the boat with my kids hanging off the back on an inflatable tube.
That’s what will be playing, at least until my 12-year-old tries to take over with MGK or XXXTentacion. That’s alright. It might not be my favorite, but striking out on your own musical journey is also a tale as old as time. It’s as traditional as family vacations, right?
From this week… Have the best summer. Make some great memories and tell me about the best summer soundtracks of your lifetime in the comments.