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Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Album Review)

Thursday, 12 April 2018 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Tonje Thilesen

When confronted with an empty canvas, there’s always a temptation to fill every inch of it; to purge yourself of ideas, to remake and remodel. On their second album, ‘Painted Shut’, Hop Along didn’t have that option. Their time in the studio came with a full stop attached to it, so they had to work fast and clean. The dense, layered approach of their debut, ‘Get Disowned’, was set aside in favour of economical indie-rock songs that had the happy byproduct of pushing their melodies, and Frances Quinlan’s remarkable voice, to the fore more than ever before.

On ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’, experimentation is very much back on the docket. Recorded by guitarist Joe Reinhart and co-producer Kyle Pulley at the pair’s Headroom studio in Philadelphia, this is an exploration of space, dynamics and textures underpinned by another arresting performance from Quinlan, who wraps impressionistic lyrics around some fearlessly inventive hooks.

If ‘Get Disowned’ was Hop Along’s investigation of guitar music, then this record feels like it exists more comfortably on a pop wavelength.

It shimmers and swoops, with Reinhart and Quinlan’s guitars sometimes chopped and rearranged, sometimes panned hard, sometimes overlaid with weird loops and rich strings.

There are percussive shouts and chants that immediately bring to mind Hayley Williams and latter-day Paramore, and several songs that have a propulsive, hip-shaking quality. That's something of a new look for Hop Along, but they wear it well.

Everything here happens very quickly. No song really settles into a set shape, while the band throw so many ideas into the mix that the listener always starts on the back foot. The arrangements are more than a little overwhelming at first, but once you get a handle on each thread they cohere into beautiful, ornate structures. Their foundations are rock solid, too. The rhythm section - Quinlan’s brother, Mark, on drums, and bassist Tyler Long - does the heavy lifting without fuss, allowing the fireworks to burst overhead.

Quinlan’s lyrical style is also ideally suited to these surroundings. Her words are sometimes autobiographical, sometimes not, and based around powerful imagery that hangs in the air. She has a razor sharp appreciation for snapshots of time and place and a killer way with opening lines. “Just a few minutes after taking them, I realised hundreds of buzzing flies were all over me,” she sings on Prior Things. On Somewhere a Judge: “There you have it, the beginning and the end. The intern's shovel still covered in shit.”  

Each element of ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’ feels lovingly workshopped and pored over, but it still has the capacity to elicit an emotional response in a very direct way. Taking the long way around, it seems, doesn’t always have to tire you out. At a time when the best indie-rock bands in Philadelphia are automatically contenders for world titles, Hop Along still stand out from the pack.

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