No one likes to be pigeonholed, but it’s getting pretty damn hard to deny early 2015’s prevailing trend – a slew of albums by female-fronted bands sporting echoes of extroverted ’90s alt-rock. From Waxahatchee to Lady Lamb to Torres, there’s no shortage of impressive examples. But it’s a big tent, plenty wide to cover the likes of Hop Along, which might be the best of the batch.
Hop Along runs with the same Philly crowd as the Crutchfield twins, and their sound isn’t far removed from those sisters’ old band P S Eliot. However Hop Along favors louder, knottier guitar lines that bring to mind Speedy Ortiz with a more assured melodic sense – Frances Quinlan and Joe Reinhart deliver some of the best dual-guitar headphones action I’ve heard in awhile.
Painted Shut is the band’s second album (third if you count Quinlan’s solo acoustic juvenilia released as Hop Along, Queen Ansleis). It’s also their first with an outside producer, who’s managed to focus their strengths. The quartet includes three dudes but it’s clearly Quinlan’s show, through both her sharp songwriting and a voice that’s both conventionally pretty (if slightly raspy) and unafraid to leap to untrained shrieks to reinforce a point.
Like Courtney Barnett, Quinlan delves into the mostly mundane daily details that bring meaning to life for those paying attention. Painted Shut opens with “The Knock,” a tale of a visit from a Jehovah’s Witness, building to the great sing-along chorus “The witness just wants to talk to you….” “I Saw My Twin” is about encountering an older version of herself working at a Waffle House. On the bigger-picture side is “Powerful Man,” on which Quinlan witnesses a casual episode of child abuse and futilely attempts to address it, all while her tune keeps threatening to break into a radio-ready lite soul chorus. I can’t get it out of my head.
Here’s the best part: the groups I mentioned don’t sound that much like each other; they wouldn’t be getting lumped together if they hadn’t all released albums within a four month window. And they’re more evocative of than imitative of the ’90s antecedents I never liked all that much (cue Veruca Salt who, sensing an opportunity, are back). With rare exception – Bully seems kinda hungry to grab the mantel – this new wave of bands feels more self-directed, untainted by the marketing push of post-Nirvana ambition. I’ll take the new crew.