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Unlocked: Finding strength in life and art with Philadelphia’s Hop Along

Hop Along in the studio | photo by Jonathan Minto
Hop Along in the studio | photo by Jonathan Minto

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.”

Frank’s story inspired “Horseshoe Crabs,” a track on her band Hop Along’s new album Painted Shut, which we’re featuring all week long on Unlocked. Continue reading →

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Unlocked: Wander an artful maze of memory in Hop Along’s “Powerful Man” video

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A scene from Hop Along’s “Powerful Man” video

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 →

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Unlocked: The Key’s review of Painted Shut by Hop Along

Painted Shut cover art
Painted Shut cover art

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 →

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Unlocked: Reflect on life and death in Hop Along’s “Happy To See Me”

Frances Quinlan | photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com
Frances Quinlan | photo by Rachel Del Sordo | racheldelsordo.tumblr.com

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 →

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Stream Hop Along’s highly-anticipated new record Painted Shut

Hop Along | Photo by Shervin Lainez
Hop Along | Photo by Shervin Lainez

The wait is over. Hop Along‘s eagerly anticipated Painted Shut just went up for streaming today via Spin Magazine, and wow. Filled with the offbeat rock and roll goodness that makes up their unique sound, the band hits hard on hits like “Waitress” and “Sister Cities.” But the record also explores new waters and a solid mix of moods, all punctuated by frontwoman Frances Quinlan’s passionate delivery. Continue reading →

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All or Nothing: Listen to Hop Along’s explosive “Texas Funeral” from Painted Shut

Hop Along | Photo by Shervin Lainez
Hop Along | Photo by Shervin Lainez

The one thing that has drawn me to listen to Hop Along for hours, frequently on repeat, is Frances Quinlan’s open and honest lyricism. There’s nothing hidden under fluffy words; it’s just the raw, gritty vocals that channel the everyday internal battles.

Hop Along has been pouring out new tracks off their upcoming album Painted Shut these past few weeks – listen to “Powerful Man” here and “Waitress” here – and their latest, “Texas Funeral,” premiered today through Stereogum. The rhythm section throughout the song is complex, locked in and thrashing out, putting the band’s talent in combining words and sound in the forefront. Continue reading →

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Take a nice big bite: The Mountain Goats, Hop Along & Young Guv on the Indie Rock Hit Parade

The Mountain Goats | Photo by Lissa Gottwals
The Mountain Goats | Photo by Lissa Gottwals

If you’re looking for action, look no further than tonight’s Indie Rock Hit Parade on XPN. Starting at 11pm, it’s a non-stop, two-hour showcase of some seriously great new releases (with a couple of old favorites thrown in for good measure). The centerpiece of tonight’s show is our Weekly Album Spotlight, where we’ll be hearing a few tracks from Beat The Champ, the new release from The Mountain Goats. Sure, this is their 15th full-length, but John Darnielle and company have become reinvigorated over the past few years, amping up production value and honing the wry and personal lyrics that have become the band’s trademark. Even if you’re not a fan of professional wrestling, you won’t be able to resist the self-examination and reflection (and hooks) to be found on Beat The Champ. Aside from that, we’ve got a stacked lineup of new tunes to get to, including a few of these.

Continue reading →

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Love on the Streets Fest is coming to Paine’s Park in May

Radiator Hospital | via Facebook
Radiator Hospital | via Facebook

Two passions of this city (music and skateboarding) are colliding for a day at the Love on the Streets Festival at Paine’s Park come Saturday, May 9.

The LOTS Fest boasts an awesome local lineup, with Radiator Hospital, Dogs on Acid, Moon Bounce, W.C. Lindsay, Jack DeezlClique and Mr. Sampson all taking the stage, not to mention performances by the the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts as well as skaters from Powerfulnailya and the Philadelphia Skateboard Academy. Continue reading →

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Hop Along makes a powerful statement with “Powerful Man”

Hop Along in the studio | photo by Jonathan Minto
Hop Along in the studio | photo by Jonathan Minto

Last week Hop Along premiered “Waitress,” the first single from their upcoming album Painted Shut, and it was an immediate favorite within the Philly scene and beyond. With open arms and honest lyricism comes the second single from Painted Shut, that delves into some darker subject matter.

In “Powerful Man,” singer / guitarist Frances Quinlan relates the personal struggle of witnessing a child being abused by his father and freezing up in the moment to take a stand. ”He said ‘she’s not gonna help you,’” Quinlan sings on the refrain. Continue reading →

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Unsung Folkadelphia #1: Jason Molina and Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain

Jason Molina, courtesy of Secretly Canadian.
Jason Molina, courtesy of Secretly Canadian.
From the 'Didn't It Rain' session, Jennie Bedford's lyric work sheet to "Steve Albini's Blues"
From the ‘Didn’t It Rain’ session, Jennie Bedford’s lyric work sheet to “Steve Albini’s Blues”

Welcome to the first chapter of Folkadelphia’s new project that we’ve gotten in the habit of calling Unsung.

In the history of music, there are many unsung artists and albums that we firmly clutch close to our hearts. These artists create the kind of music that we wish other people knew more about or cared more deeply for. We wish that we could share with others our exact feelings about how we’ve been touched and affected by some musicians. We want to show them the light. We want to sing these musicians’ unsung song for everyone to hear.

With this series, we hope we can provide a way for people to connect with music that has been influential beyond its commercial impact and, perhaps, appeal. It’s never too late to find a new favorite band and honor their legacy and discography.

For this first part, we focused on what has become one of my favorite albums: Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain, which was recorded in Philadelphia in 2002. Continue reading →