Not long ago I mentioned Hall & Oates as one of a long line of bands to come from Philadelphia. The City of Brotherly Love was once known mostly for the Gamble and Huff production team that turned out hits by The O’Jays and Teddy Pendergrass. The city has a soul music heritage that stretches back to the ’60s.
The city remains a major focal point for soul music, but a surprising indie rock scene is developing with notable names like Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs and The Walkmen. One of the more recent of these hip and edgy bands is Hop Along. The band started as a project of Frances Quinlan and group of friends in high school called Hop Along, Queen Ansleis in the mid Ohs. Hop Along is classic indie rock, with a strong guitar and drum setup behind the scraggly voice of Quinlan.
The band’s line up has evolved over the years, but Quinlan has consistently been the band’s songwriter. Despite a series of really strong releases, Painted Shut was the first to get real promotion, leading the band’s record company to pronounce them a big secrete. Painted Shut is the most cohesive of Hop Along’s releases and reminds me of the indie rock I used to hear on college radio stations in the ’90s.
Much of what makes Hop Along so interesting could be traced to similar folk rock bands like Bright Eyes who came of age during the late ’90s. Hop Along owes much of it’s distinction to Quinlan whose sharp writing is made all the more dramatic with her running up and down the register and her drunken off kilter delivery. The album opens with my favorite song, “The Knock”, a track that sums up the freak folk syncopation of Painted Shut nicely.
The drums and guitar arrangements are simple, even with the addition of three new members. Producer John Agnello has worked with other local stars like Kurt Vile and brings a similar clean no frills production style.
Painted Shut was released in 2015 to nearly universal acclaim and rightfully so. Few indie rock bands today can combine angst, melody and drama all wrapped up in clever song writing as well as Hop Along. New fans like myself were happy to discover that the band’s back catalog is strong. As a bonus, the band re-released Get Disowned, an album recorded in 2012 then shelved. Stylistically its a bit more challenging than Open Shut but is no less enjoyable! If this keeps up Philadelphia will be known as home to more than just soul music and an excellent philharmonic orchestra.