Hop Along, The Sidekicks

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, (out on May 5, 2015 via Saddle Creek) is their 2nd full-length (preceded by 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.

The Sidekicks

Growing up is weird. Very few of us ever end up doing that thing for a living that we imagined we might when we were kids. Even fewer end up doing the same thing for the rest of our lives that we were doing as teenagers, even if that thing happens to be making music with our friends. In the case of The Sidekicks, a teenage affinity for playing propulsive punk rock somehow, against all odds, managed to turn into a full-time life pursuit. After nearly a decade of making noisy rock music, The Sidekicks have the audacity to finally grow up and their newfound maturity is at the very core of their excellent new album, Runners in the Nerved World.

“This band essentially started when we were kids, when we were fifteen,” recalls front man Steve Ciolek. “Every time we make a new record I always stop and ask myself if we’re even the same band now. We were in high school, you know? We loved bands like Against Me! and that’s where we were coming from. Over the years we’ve all grown and changed—like anyone does—and you want the art you make to reflect that. It’s just funny sometimes to think about it. The Sidekicks feels like an arbitrary moniker sometimes, you know? We’re certainly not the same people we were back then.”

Formed in Cleveland, Ohio in 2006, The Sidekicks paid their dues according to the old-fashion punk rock model—by playing lots and lots of shows, sleeping on floors, and generally devoting themselves to recording and touring at the expense of any other kind of life. The bands earliest recorded efforts—2007’s So Long, Soggy Dog and 2009’s Weight of Air—reflected this. By the time they released 2012’s Awkward Breeds, the romance of punk rock was beginning to wane and the influence of pop music began to creep in. “To me the appeal of punk rock was that there weren’t any rules,” says Ciolek. “Now the word “punk” has changed so much. I still like the whole spirit of punk rock, but it’s crazy to spend so many years on the road playing with so many bands that all sound exactly the same, like they are all working within this very rigid formula. A lot of our music now feels like a reaction to that, to having been around that for so many years. This record was really about trying to get away from that punk format, even though I have a lot of respect for that music.”

For the recording of Runners in the Nerved World the band— Steve Ciolek (Vocals & Guitar), Matt Climer (Drums), and Ryan Starinsky (Bass)—decamped to Seattle to work with famed indie-rock producer Phil Ek, a pairing that proved to be something of a dream come true for Ciolek. “The dream from the very beginning was to work with Phil Ek,” says Ciolek, “When that became a reality it was almost too good to be true. It was working with Phil that really shaped the sound of the record. Up until this point we’d just go into a studio for a week and record everything live and that would be it. This time around I just really wanted to make a great pop record. I was ready to abandon that idea that we’re a punk band and everything has to sound like we’re a punk band playing in a basement somewhere. I wanted to let the songs just go wherever they needed to go, which was liberating. This time we got to spend six weeks on the songs instead of just one.”

According to Ciolek, the songs that eventually found their way onto the new record represented a period of growth for the band, which is obvious from the beginning of album-opener “Hell is Warm”—a track whose feather light guitar lines give way to charging drums and Ciolek’s soaring vocals asking the question “How do we not get lost?” It seems a fitting question to open an album all about piloting new and mysterious paths. Tracks like “The Kid Who Broke His Wrist” and “Deer” bring to mind the kind of jangly pop euphoria of early Band of Horses or old Built to Spill records, while “Everything in Twos” is the kind of pop punk jam seemingly tailor made for singing along in a car at peak volume. According to Ciolek, the album offers a variety of firsts for the band. “ ‘Satellite Words and Me’ is kind of the first ballad we’ve ever written, like our version of “The Long and Winding Road” or something,” he explains. “Also, ‘Jesus Christ Supermalls’ is kind of our way of taking a step towards making a real pop song. We weren’t trying to get all symphonic or Phil Spector on this record, but there wasn’t any rule that we couldn’t use strings and things like that. For the first time ever we really let ourselves explore the possibilities of a studio. Plus, Phil Ek really knows how to make guitars sound great and I think he really enjoyed the opportunity to make a real rock record.“ The end result is an album that feels deceptively effortless; a collection of songs about the need to move forward, packed with buoyant melodies and razor-sharp hooks that go on for days and days.

“At its core, Runners in the Nerved World is about getting past the excitement of growing up and finding new ways to simulate that movement,” says Ciolek. “How that movement manifest itself varies from song to song--whether it be chemically (basically all the drinking references), physically (“Blissfield, MI”), or even by having new romantic partners. The point the record is supposed to make is that it’s often pretty arbitrary how that movement is simulated. Regardless of the situation, inevitably the characters in these songs just get stuck in those cycles. The record tries to deconstruct that inertia--that constant motivation to run.”

As for what happens next for The Sidekicks, Ciolek and the rest of the band look forward to getting back on the road and playing shows that reflect the bands increasingly varied back catalog. “Everything we’ve done in the past is still relevant for us,” says Ciolek. “It’s just weird to think about how something just becomes your life’s work, you know? It just happens without you even realizing it. Maybe that’s what some of these new songs are kind of about. You know, sometimes it’s scary to think about doing this when I’m 30 and I’ll have been doing this for fifteen years at that point. It’s wild. The Sidekicks could be a totally different kind of band by then, which is fine as long as we’re still having a good time.”

LUTHER has a hard time standing still. After two years and hundreds of shows, LUTHER has put the finishing touches on their debut full length. "Let's Get You Somewhere Else" finds LUTHER honing their nervous energy to create not only a more straightforward, driving album but also a momentum that will keep the band from slowing down anytime soon.

Ma Jolie

Ma Jolie is a band from Philadelphia in the vein of Superchunk, Samiam and shit that sounds like that . With members who have all been in multiple active bands, they put together a collection of songs that bring to mind the best of the late 90s punk world. Combining tight, fun rhythms, clever guitar hooks, and catchy vocals, they recently recorded their first record at the Headroom Studio in Philly. They are looking forward to releasing the record soon, but for now, the entire record is available for download on their Bandcamp page - http://majolie.bandcamp.com/

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