Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Fall – Sub-Lingual Tablet

The Fall – Sub-Lingual Tablet
Jesse E. Mullen

This album definitely resembles the Beggar's era of the group (1984-1988), but also brings The Fall in an exciting, and tightly refined new direction. Whether it's looking back via "Snazzy" (a funky distant cousin to "Slang King,") and the Brix-ish "First One Today," or to the future via the churning post-punk of "Dedication," and the extended jam "Auto Chip 2014-2016," it is an unqualified success. Mark E. Smith and company have brought out one of the best albums from any era of the group.
Cherry Red/2015

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hop Along Make Triumphant Return to the Stage At Toad’s Place

Hop Along Make Triumphant Return to the Stage

At Toad’s Place


Jesse E. Mullen

Singer/Rhythm Guitarist Frances Quinlan during her solo electric portion of Friday night's set. 
(c) Jesse E. Mullen.
After a five month hiatus from playing out, Philadelphia’s beloved quartet Hop Along returned to the stage Friday night (April 14th) at Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT, in an event curated by Yale University. They played for roughly an hour, and proved that they still have surprises up their sleeves.

At the shows start, frontwoman and sole songwriter Frances Quinlan took to the stage solo with an ice breaking joke; “Good evening. I’m the merch person for Hop Along.” And with that, she launched into “Happy To See Me,” a rarely played highlight from 2015’s masterwork Painted Shut. To hear the song live was a real treat, as Quinlan’s vocal and lyrical performance was hauntingly beautiful. She also did “Some Grace” from 2012’s Get Disowned solo, which had a somewhat different (but equally effective) sound to the album version in the live setting. During this portion of the set, it became clear that there was a group of students loudly talking and watching the hockey game in the back of the club. Quinlan noticed, and joked “I hope they’re winning,” before being joined by the rest of the group. Opening with “The Knock,” the group unleashed a combination of melody and fury that only certain bands can in the live setting. The beautiful noise was more than enough to drown out the loud talkers in the back, who thankfully focused their energies on dancing. The crowd’s energy only increased once “Waitress” began, with its universal tale of guilt resonating deeply with the audience. 

One of the more poignant non-musical moments came before “Powerful Man,” a song which deals with abuse of power by an intimidating figure. “You’re powerful. Use it for good,” Quinlan said to the student body. Later on came the song that is possibly Hop Alongs biggest “hit,” the majestic “Tibetan Pop Stars.” Quite possibly one of the saddest, yet most hopeful songs of the last five years, it had several audience members (including yours truly) tearfully singing along. Built around Mark Quinlan’s skull crushing drums, the two guitarists’ dreamy soundscapes, and Tyler Long’s thundering bass, Frances Quinlan’s always stunning voice clear-cuts through the din to tell the story of one of the most devastating assessments of a human relationship ever written.

Finally, the show came to a close with “Sister Cities,” the ending track on Painted Shut. It is always a compelling listen, with its lyrics describing four independent characters who become interwoven at the end of the song. But last night, it was especially invigorating and cathartic, with Quinlan’s delivery of the lyrics, and for the second time of the night, I had tears in my eyes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Song of The Week: Tobin Sprout - “When I Was A Boy”

Song of The Week: Tobin Sprout -
“When I Was A Boy”
Jesse E. Mullen

Tobin Sprout is set to release his first solo record in seven years, on Burger Records on January 20th. Titled “The Universe And Me,” two singles have been released to the public so far, the second of which, “When I Was A Boy” striking a particular chord with this reviewer’s heart. Here are my thoughts.
Tobin Sprout, the beloved alumnus from Guided By Voices has recorded a new album, titled The Universe And Me around the theme of looking at his childhood, and coming into his own. This is crystalized on the second single, the lush tender, “When I Was A Boy.” Over a warm major-key melody, Sprout sings sentimentally about looking back on his younger self, comforting him telling him “Hey now, don’t fret/We wish you all the best”, watching over him with the knowledge of a man who has experienced life as an adult for many years. The wistfulness of Sprout’s vocals lyrics and chord changes is breathtaking. He then looks to the present, now that he’s a man; “I still see the boy/I still feel the days.” Any fan of ‘60s pop or lofi (or just strong melodies, and heartfelt lyrics) will find something to love here. And maybe, just maybe, will be in touch with their younger self once again. Listen below.

Pre-Order the full album here:

Burger Records/2017