More than simply a great band, Philly’s Hop Along is a great band that understands the value of community. They’ve opened shows and tours for their more established scene peers like mewithoutYou and Dr. Dog, and in turn they’ve taken given opening opportunities to Thin Lips and Clique. They record at Philly studios, they have Philly friends contribute to their albums, they work with Philly people (like Cat Park and Tiff Yoon of Amanda X) on their music videos and merch. And in turn, they’re a band that’s embraced the Philadelphia music world around.
Frances Quinlan first heard the ravaged voice of Jackson C. Frank a few years while working a house painting job. She had a Nick Drake Spotify channel keeping her company during the long hours, and one day while working at her friend Mike’s house, the song “Tumble In The Wind” came on.
“I heard it and immediately was like ‘who is this?’” she recalls. “So I looked him up. And I read one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read.”
The legend goes that the New England musician got into music and guitar playing while recovering from a school fire which left him with burns on 50% of his body. When Frank received settlement money at age 21, he moved to England, met Paul Simon – who was living in the UK at the time – and the two worked together to record his self-titled album, his only commercial release during his lifetime.
However, while his music influenced the emerging 60s folk scene and his song “Blues Run The Game” was covered by Simon & Garfunkel and Nick Drake, Frank himself remained mired in obscurity. Returning to the United States, a series of tragedies struck – he developed paranoid schizophrenia, was homeless for a period of time, lost one eye when a group of kids sitting in a park accidentally shot him in the face with a pellet gun. Eventually a fan named Jim Abbott tracked him down in the 90s and helped him make his final recordings, including “Tumble.”
“He could barely play,” Quinlan says. “But it is such a great song. I couldn’t stop thinking about him.”
Most people know Frances Quinlan as a singer and songwriter, the powerful voice behind Philly’s Hop Along. But visual art was actually her first calling; she founded the band almost ten years ago as a freshman studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Most of her album art is the work of her own hand, with no shortage of ambition either. At the Get Disowned album release party in the basement of the First Unitarian Church, Quinlan decorated the stage with dozens of larger-than-life-sized leaves from the album cover, and then handed dozens more out to the audience. (It was June and the basement was sweltering, so they made good handheld fans, as well as mementos for the fans.) And the intricate, beautiful still life on the cover of Painted Shut is her work as well.
The new music video for “Powerful Man” might be Quinlan’s most complex and rewarding fusion of art and music. Continue reading →
It’s Tuesday, meaning we’re at the part in our occasional Unlocked series where the person writing the series shares their review of the album we’re featuring. Thing is, we pretty much all love Hop Along and Painted Shut. So for today’s installment, we bring you our first-ever Key Staff collaborative album review. Enjoy!
Philly greats Hop Along have been hanging out in the shadows for quite some time. Although the band has been putting out exceptional music for the better part of a decade, they have kept a relatively low profile until now. Their new album Painted Shut, released this week on revered indie label Saddle Creek, introduces Hop Along to the masses. The album reads like a collection of short stories, leaving the metaphor and ambiguity of 2012’s Get Disowned behind and spinning narratives that pull you in like a great book.
The track “Horseshoe Crabs” exemplifies this beautifully. The song’s haunting melody perfectly accompanies the lyrics of loss illustrated through the lens of childhood memories about summertime adventures. Frontwoman Frances Quinlan reflects on memory throughout the album, memories that are pivotal to her – “Powerful Man” describes her fear and failure to intervene when, as a teenager, she saw a young child being abused by his father – but in some cases, the memories may not be the way others involved remember the situation.
Take “Waitress”: Quinlan blows up a frustrating, awkward scene in her head upon seeing somebody walk into her restaurant – “your friend looked over from the bar, she must have known who I was / the worst possible version of what I’d done” – but in reality, the people she’s waiting on may not have given the moment a second thought – “call you enemy because I’m afraid of what you could call me.” It definitely reflects that normal anxiety and overthinking self-consciousness that we are all prone to from time to time. Continue reading →
One of the most powerful moments on Hop Along‘s 2012 album Get Disowned is one of its quietest.
On the second side of a record filled with emotional, cathartic ragers and explosive youth anthems sits the melancholic, haunting ballad called “Trouble Found Me.” Like much of the album, the song abstractly relates the story of a character with schizophrenia – a family friend of frontwoman Frances Quinlan – and follows as he struggles through life, is pushed through hospitals and is generally failed by the healthcare system. “Trouble Found Me” is a point of aching realization of all this: as much for Quinlan the third-person narrator as it is for the character and even the listener who might not know about the story line at play.
This lyric in particular drives it home:
Once I thought being lost was only a part of being young / But the old man in the bed next to your cot was screaming louder than anyone / Saying mama mama mama, little white mice run across my bed while the nurses play poker outside / Oh my God, how is the other guy? I can’t believe someday I’m gonna die.
Quinlan sings that last line – “I can’t believe someday I’m gonna die” – in a whisper, matter-of-factly acknowledging our collective mortality not with fear but rather a resigned uncertainty. In the distance, a slide guitar moans. Is there a greater significance to this aimless trip we’re all on? My exit could be a long ways off, or it could be this week, and it leads me to pretty much the same place in either case. All those questions that keep you up at night, you know?
Hop Along’s excellent sophomore album Painted Shut is out today on Saddle Creek Records, and the band celebrates this Saturday night with a headlining show at Union Transfer. As the week unfolds, you’ll doubtless read a lot out there in the musical-journalistic space about what a bold record it is, how it’s unflinching and energetic, how it unpacks heavy ideas with equally heavy volume and energy. All of those points are absolutely accurate, and we’ll be weighing in on them all week long as we explore the album in Unlocked, The Key’s recurring spotlight on new and significant releases from Philadelphia-area artists.
But for me, again, the most powerful moment on Painted Shut might just be its quietest. Continue reading →
DRGN KING core members Dominic Angelella, Brent “Ritz” Reynolds, Steve Montenegro and Joe Baldacci have been established as a band for four years, but each individual has had a presence as a mainstay on the Philly music scene for years. So this leaves us with the question—when were YOU listening to one of DRGN KING’s boys without realizing it? With the help of friends involved in other projects, each musician has been able to stake roles as MVP’s on the 215 music map. Test your knowledge on other places you may have heard Reynolds’ flawless production or seen “the red-haired Jesus” shredding in the background.
The sophomore album from DRGN KING,Baltimore Crush, feels personal. As an outsider, you’re immediately invited into this fuzzy psychedelic reality where suddenly there’s places and people who feel important. You know their behaviors, dreams, flaws and fears. That’s personal. This world comes from the strength of songwriting from frontman Dom Angelella, whose upbringing among the Baltimore DIY crowd comes out in this love letter of sorts to the scene. As a place where his self-discovery started to take shape, listeners gain a very real picture of what this scene means to those who were, are, and will be influencing/influenced by such a hotbed of creativity. This album thrashes in that convergence of ideas. I hung out with Dom recently to ask him about the album, and he shared some insight into Moments Where Things Changed for him as well as fears and goals cultivated from the environment around him. Continue reading →
In our review of DRGN King’s Baltimore Crush yesterday, we referenced the heavier nods to surf sounds on this record, which is definitely prevalent on the sure-to-be crowd pleaser “St. Tom’s.” Well, way back in February Dom Angelella did a Cover Club session at Nomad Recording Studio featuring a cover of The Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl,” which you can read about here. What we didn’t highlight before was this super-stripped down version of “St. Tom’s,” the second track from the singer’s hometown-focused record. Continue reading →
“Do you remember we would go to church and play the pool shark?” trills Dom Angelella on “St. Tom’s,” the second track from DRGN King’s Baltimore Crush. This line is just one example of many that invites listeners into this fuzzy world of basement-moshers-with-guitars on the album, a follow-up to 2013’s Paragraph Nights.
Baltimore Crush isn’t just a shift from their debut LP; it’s a progression into a different branch of rock. Sure, the ten-track album still has touches of DRGN King’s signature electronic influences, but the driving forces on this effort come from thrash-worthy guitar solos counteracted by relaxed surf vibes, which in itself could be a description of the people the album’s written for; coasting along but screwing up big time in an attempt to mask unreached potential.
The percussion on “Solo Harp,” which the band played at the 2013 XPoNential Music Festival, has this intensity that personifies how important the rest of the album is, making it an interesting yet appropriate choice as the last track on the record. It hearkens back more familiarly to earlier work from DRGN King, but the song’s themes provide a fitting conclusion for this new album as well. Baltimore Crush is a spectacular collection of feelings about the common overwhelming pressure to break out and do something huge and what it’s like to watch people flounder along as they fail to meet those expectations.
Listening to DRGN KING’s Baltimore Crush is a bit like remembering what you might have written in your journal when you were seventeen. Well, not even a journal, because that would indicate you strived for consistency. Who had time to be consistent at seventeen? It’s like finding a “really important” piece of looseleaf on which you frantically mapped your ten-year-plan during a study hall, convinced that following this agenda, of course, was key to Making It Big.
Because in ten years, you were supposed to have it All Figured Out.
If you followed all these things and nothing happened, If you didn’t follow this list, If you didn’t make it by then, you weren’t doing it right.
But growing up and realizing happiness lies in finding something worthwhile, something you care about, is one of those things you don’t really believe until you realize your own happiness. Continue reading →