Hop Along deserve to be as big as any other rock band the “scene” currently supplies, right up there on the posters next to Arcade Fire, Tame Impala and, I dunno, Wilco? The songs have more than enough kick and structural bones to echo through a stadium of any size and the music itself has all the intricacy of more superficially complex, expensive studio productions. Maybe they are one album away from this and the next Hop Along album campaign will be shipped directly to Sirius XMU and other playlists near you. But right now, they are top-form, with songs that feel as intimate as high school love anthems and as wary as the mutter of any of Lenny Cohen’s pulpy characters.
The turnout for their show last week at Brooklyn Steel, a recently constructed monument to the current era of gentrification that takes the form of a gauche parody of what it replaced, was warm. Few shows at BS regularly are, the post-industrial chic is made to be deliberately cold, a place to buy beer, like a museum with nothing in it. But the collective excitement to see the Philadelphia band headline one of the largest shows of their career was ten years in waiting and would persist in a hurricane of posh. The unit had begun as a solo project of its singer and guitarist Frances Quinlan under the name Hop Along, Queen Ansleis and a hand-distributed CD called Freshman Year in 2005. Three records later, the masthead is shorter and the band is larger: her brother Mark on drums along with Tyler Long and Joe Reinhart.
An unfamiliar observer would group the band with acts far younger and attached to the current wave of Mitski-core second wave, like Soccer Mommy or Snail Mail and they wouldn’t be that far away, crowd-wise, though Hop Along has used their decade in the Philly scene to enlarge their sound beyond the hushy angst of their younger peers. All the good stuff of the city’s recent evolution to destination rock-n-roll is there: from War on Drugs’s folk rock in-the-shredder sound to mewithoutYou’s post-hardcore sense of what a story is, cathartic in its collected, minuscule details.
The folksy, communal sense of the evening was aided also by a rousing warm-up performance by Saintseneca, producers of “cohesive, catchy and accessible” music, imported from Columbus, OH. Zac Little beat a fat acoustic guitar behind golden curls, lion-like, as were his titanic reveries that evoked the punchy physicality of Elvis or Iggy. To his side was Maryn Jones, also of the pop-punk band All Dogs, in perfect high school goth attire, again suggesting a collective recent past, before the conformity of careerism.
Hop Along feel young enough to live in that perpetual past too, Quinlan’s drawl is squeaky like Louise Belcher on Bob’s Burgers, radiating zany, unpretentious knowledge of the world. The band moves with the gestures of every high school hero you had a crush on, behind the bleachers, the summer bleeding on forever like in the movies. The stakes of all this are visited with a kind of crushing foreboding, as in on “Horseshoe Crabs” which begins “Hey, did you hear me, mom?… Against your wishes, I went into the woods alone.” Quinlan has said, writing-wise, “it can take years to flesh something out.”
“I know I’m a poser,” Quinlan tells us now, sounding every bit sincere in her surprise that writing songs about everyday sadness with a lyrically poetic lilt had gotten her here, a crowd singing along and chanting song requests. Their latest record, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, showcased her at her most pensive, her writing populated with the stark mediations on faith and abstract album artwork. The songs still have the kind of snap-choruses that gets them described as “rallying anthems” but those parts begin more erratically, as if sudden emotion has swept the songwriting and it can lift you like a sudden wave. Hop Along may make bum-out short stories, not uncommon to the reading/writing artistic sensibility, but its their big fuzzy choruses that end up creating space safe enough for anyone to sing along.