The most prominent feature of Hop Along's stirring sophomore LP, Painted Shut, is certainly singer/songwriter/guitarist Frances Quinlan's emotive vocal delivery. Right behind the singing, and consistent throughout the album, are catchy songs conveyed by tight, gritty instrumental performances that seduce and rouse. What's more, raw, unsparing lyrics tell stories of violence, poverty, and remorse and justify Quinlan's often exasperated husky rasp. The album was co-produced with the band by the esteemed John Agnello, who's worked with the likes of Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth and proves a perfect fit for Hop Along's punk-spirited indie rock. A song like "Sister Cities" combines pace, syncopated guitar, lush guitar harmonies, a dancing bassline, and Quinlan's feverish yowl with the disconcerting lyrics about a beloved pet. Musically steadier but still infectious and heart-wrenching, "Powerful Man" is a survey on guilt and regret about an incident the songwriter witnessed but didn't interrupt as a young adult: "Your dad told you not to look at me/Down came the fists, hard upon your head/I was the only other adult around/I was the only other adult around." Later in the song, she and a friend look for an authority figure, and the person they find doesn't intervene either. Less personal but still affecting, "Buddy in the Parade" is a tribute to New Orleans ragtime cornetist Buddy Bolden, who was admitted to a mental institution at age 30, died there, and was buried in a poor man's cemetery ("Money, money, money don't let you sleep/Switching graves in the cemetery/They buried you so many times/Can't find your body"). The album's lyrics are relentlessly candid throughout, scattered amongst intimate stories, darkened imagery, and observations like "The world's gotten so small and embarrassing." Musically, the record's edge and verve never falter, even on "Happy to See Me," its lone acoustic offering. That all of these elements align throughout the album makes Painted Shut a notable one.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson