Hop Along has had multiple lives. First conceptualized as a freak-folk solo act by Frances Quinlan, it progressed towards a fuller sound with the addition of Mark Quinlan on drums, Tyler Long on bass and Joe Reinhart (Algernon Cadwallader, Dogs on Acid) on guitar. Emerging as one of music’s most unique songwriters, the captivating vignettes Frances has weaved tell vivid stories of desperation and weary awakening. Her powerful voice is a spellbinding entity all it’s own, celebratory and raw, and one that can’t be shaken away. Their new album, Painted Shut, is their 2nd full-length and first for Saddle Creek (preceded by the self-released Get Disowned in 2012). However, this release marks their first time creating as a full-formed entity, arranging everything as a group. It was co-produced, recorded and mixed by John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, etc.) in the great cities of Philadelphia and Brooklyn, and incidentally finished in the shortest span of time the band has ever made anything. Like their debut, Painted Shut is a series of accounts, a procession of fleeting and repeating characters. However, it diverges from its predecessor in its close-up, controlled approach (most of the album features the band recording live), and more focused portraiture. Whereas Get Disowned calls forth a dreamy collage of protagonists in a tone that’s often anthemic and surreal, Painted Shut is a grounded, less merciful image of many struggling adults (and children) in a severe landscape. Often depicted in Painted Shut are the two lives of legendary (though generally unknown) musicians, Buddy Bolden and Jackson C. Frank, who were plagued with mental illness until their penniless deaths. Included are accounts of more everyday poverty, abuse, greed; and banal, sub-par behavior. Society is unveiled as a structure that, in reality, was most certainly not built with everyone in mind. Clearly this is difficult subject matter. Yet the songs themselves move unencumbered and easily, forming angular pop anti-anthems, at times jubilant as well as irreverent. Somehow, they are not sad songs. There is joy, in the abandon of Frances’ unforgettable voice, in the exulting choruses. One wakes to a sky that is a bright, ageless blue. It’s morning and so clear outside that multitudes of lives can be seen, in focus despite the distance. All of this is viewed through a window sealed with cracked paint that cannot be opened on either side. That is how we must often view the lives of others, especially when it comes to people who have lived and gone from this world. That’s another story.