Unlocked: Wander an artful maze of memory in Hop Along’s “Powerful Man” video
Most people know Frances Quinlan as a singer and songwriter, the powerful voice behind Philly’s Hop Along. But visual art was actually her first calling; she founded the band almost ten years ago as a freshman studying at the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Most of her album art is the work of her own hand, with no shortage of ambition either. At the Get Disowned album release party in the basement of the First Unitarian Church, Quinlan decorated the stage with dozens of larger-than-life-sized leaves from the album cover, and then handed dozens more out to the audience. (It was June and the basement was sweltering, so they made good handheld fans, as well as mementos for the fans.) And the intricate, beautiful still life on the cover of Painted Shut is her work as well.
The new music video for “Powerful Man” might be Quinlan’s most complex and rewarding fusion of art and music.It’s a collaborative effort between herself, Cat Park (of Amanda X) and Craig Scheihing, blending paintings and prints into a surreal and evocative animation. As the song navigates a haze of memory surrounding her 18-year-old self witnessing an act of child abuse, the video is washed in layers of beige and grey. We see a street, the walls of buildings and eventually a person (played by Tiffany Yoon, also of Amanda X) stepping to the center, shifting in and out of the blurry haze. Though the action of a father hitting his son is never explicitly depicted, the drifting, distant visuals convey the fear and confusion of those who saw it.
One of the most telling lines in the song is when Quinlan sings of wandering the halls of a school looking for a teacher, someone, anyone to intervene – “But she didn’t look to happy to see us / ‘How should I know?’ she said. ‘That man you just described could be anyone.'” – and the helplessness is conveyed with a distressed visual of a ghost town corridor. Watch the video below; it’s hard not to be moved when it explodes in color on the last refrain.
Lest we forget that songs can fill a variety of roles in our listening and watching habits, “Powerful Man” – with its serious tone and reflective outlook – is a total rock-out jam when the band performs it in concert. (See a video of the song in at Hop Along’s New Year’s Eve show at Johnny Brenda’s below.) This of course leads to a paradox; Quinlan said in an interview with Noisey that “if somebody talked about ‘Powerful Man’ and just called it ‘catchy,’ that would bum me out.”
Which is one of my favorite things about Hop Along: there are many layers to uncover and many truths to recognize within their music.
Painted Shut is the featured album in this week’s installment of Unlocked. Listen to “Happy to See Me” in Monday’s post, read yesterday’s album review and check back later this week for a feature interview and more.