I am not a huge fan of Hop Along, the Philadelphia rock outfit fronted by Frances Quinlan. I think Painted Shut is pretty good (“The Knock” whips ass), and “Sally” off of the Wretches EP is probably among my favorite songs Quinlan has ever written (side note: That EP is selling for $50 on Discogs! It’s just sitting in my basement! I gotta sell this thing fast!), but outside of those two, there’s not a lot for me in the discography.
Except, of course, for Freshman Year.
There’s no search function on this blog, and thank god for that, so I cannot be sure this is the first time in this blog’s nine-year history that I’ve written about Freshman Year, but it seems impossible that I wouldn’t have touched on it before. Long story short, this is the album before Hop Along became an indie-rock going concern, back when Quinlan was still Baltimore-based, back when she operated under the name Hop Along, Queen Ansleis, and when her output was a 15-song document of indie-folk that towed the line between twee and tragedy. A lot of what would show up on later Hop Along records is present here – the wavering, quivering voice, the pointed, observed lyric-writing – but what’s missing is what matters. This is no full band operation. It’s a stripped down record where Quinlan and her stories take center stage, and the result, if it hits you at the right time, is something that emotionally detonating and uplifting.
A good place to start is probably “Bruno is Orange,” a good lyric to focus on is “Did you hear about that mother / broke her daughter’s legs in two / said it’s too dangerous to walk out there so / I had to save you.” You can almost hear how this song might have sounded if it was a Hop Along product, but all that extra dressing would remove from the simplicity of the song, the starkness of the statements, the effectiveness of the dual instruments of Quinlan’s voice and her pen. It’s cute, but it’s also dark. It’s twee, but it has a fucking knife.
I have to be careful not to listen to this album too much, because it’s one of those time machines. I will get stuck in the past if I stay too long. That said, I encourage you to take a visit, now on Spotify.