A Philadelphia band that deserves to be on your radar, that is if they aren’t already, is Hop Along. Led by ambitious singer/songwriter Frances Quinlan and accomplished guitar player Joe Reinhart (formerly of Algernon Cadwallader), their discography warrants a full exploration.
Hop Along, originally labelled Hop Along, Queen Ansleis, was conceived by Quinlan during her 2004 senior year of high school. At the time there was no band backing her, and the sounds were purely acoustic, the songs often constructed as hyper-aware observations and astute reflections on Quinlan’s thoughts and feelings. These songs coalesced on an album titled Freshman Year that was released in 2005. Although technically part of the Hop Along canon, this project is very different from the music that would come later when the project turned into an ensemble rather than a solo act.
In addition to Frances Quinlan and Joe Reinhart, the ensemble included Frances’s brother Mark Quinlan on the drums and Tyler Long on bass. Their debut studio album, Get Disowned, was released in May of 2012. Although the record found positive praise from some music critics, it was largely ignored until a reissue was released through Saddle Creek Records in 2016. Get Disowned is a brutally honest project that showcases the fearless lucidity of Quinlan’s songwriting. Look no further than “Diamond Mine” which features a bridge containing the repetitive anthem “There are some parents whose children long for divorce”. The second track, “Tibetian Pop Stars” was a favorite among fans who identified with both the peculiarity and earnestness with which Quinlan describes the aftermath of a breakup. At just ten songs and 40 minutes, Get Disowned is trim and doesn’t have one dud on the tracklist.
Hop Along’s follow-up came in 2015 with Painted Shut. This record was notably produced by John Agnello, who has worked with the likes of other indie outfits such as Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr., Alvvays, and Kurt Vile. Painted Shut maintains the energy and punk spirit of its predecessor but in contrast adopts a cleaner sound. Through it all, Quinlan’s voice continues to be the primary draw for listeners. Her voice is dynamic in nature and the delivery she effortlessly carries across the album renders nearly all songs impossible for karaoke. While not quite reaching the high points of Get Disowned, this album proved that Hop Along was consistently creating worthwhile music.
Hop Along’s most recent album, and my personal favorite, is Bark Your Head Off, Dog. Released in 2018, this record features songs that are more sophisticated and mature than anything heard from the band before. The tracks are particularly suited to a live audience as most feature terrific anthemic chants as outros. What is sometimes lost when instinctively singing along to them is how sharp the poetry can be. Some of my favorites include “In an open field, man is guilty always” (One That Suits Me) and “I don’t know why, I’m so mean each time I come to visit/I don’t know why I’m so mean each time I come around” (Somewhere a Judge). This album also showcases some experimentation from the band, one highlight being just a dash of autotune on Quinlan’s voice during a key moment of “Somewhere a Judge”. It’s a very subtle gesture, but also one of the absolute album highlights.
Recently, Frances Quinlan released a solo project titled Likewise. That record displayed that Quinlan has lost none of her lyrical prowess and vocal chops. One can only hope that the band is together during quarantine and is channeling this unique situation into some great indie music.
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