Hop Along have made a most welcome return with third album, the brilliantly titled ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’. Self-produced and recorded in their native Philadelphia, it finds the four-piece diversifying more than ever before with Frances Quinlan’s breathtaking vocals melding with strings, harmonies and even – in one glorious moment – a vocoder.
The album kicks off with a few acoustic strums of ‘How Simple’; a visceral song that finds Frances talking about checking herself out in the window of cars and continuing to discuss her insecurities over a groove-laden bass: ‘How simple my heart can be’; ‘Don’t worry, we will both find out, just not together’; ‘We’ll find out who I am again’. It’s a statement of intent from the very first note and proves the band are ready to dip their collective toes into more genres than ever before. It’s followed by the danceable intelligent pop of ‘Somewhere a Judge’ before ‘How You Got Your Limp’ offers more introspective tone. This is a haunting tale that takes in everything from asbestos to ‘a voice of a doomed man’. An eerie Nick Cave-esque tale, it also finds time for a whistling solo amongst the atmospheric strings, cello and darkly alluring lyrics: ‘I know what you’d like me to say but you’ve got to do exactly what you wanted. It’s how you got your limp. All your strength came through her humiliation’.
The plonky strings of recent single ‘Not Abel’ indicated the band were going to push boundaries on this record and this slow-building and math-tinged pop song evolves into an anthemic indie banger halfway through. It’s a change that comes about at the most unexpected of times and that it’s seamlessly followed by the handclap-laden electro of ‘The Fox in Motion’ is to the band’s utmost credit. This song’s thumping bass line makes it a real floor filler that Phoenix would have been proud of…
As the album reaches its halfway point, it changes tack with the gentle and touching sway of ‘One that Suits Me’. Bursting with powerful drums and Chrissy Tashjian from Thin Lips’ distinctive backing vocals, it reminded us of Stars or Rilo Kiley. It also has timely lyrics about how some may feel out of place right now: ‘The century turned and your old man stumbled in saying of course I am for peace – one that suits me’. The album’s title comes from the 6-minute ‘Look of Love’. This song opens with a DIY bedroom pop production feel as Frances talks about ‘Jane Austen in the hospital’ before listing her fears (‘for example, the labrador down the street’). Shortly after lamenting the pup for chasing speeding cars, a hugely sheened production comes in – complete with power pop guitars and ‘la, la, las’ – it’s beautiful. The album closes with ‘Prior Things’, a song that evolves from a Disney soundtrack on E numbers to something altogether more classical and then into an exhilarating XTC direction. There’s also a healthy dose of nature in the nostalgic lyrics: ‘I watched the bird feeder out back in my parents’ yard. The weight of that blue jay, the boy steals it all’.
Comprised of just nine songs, this is a delightful listen with plenty of tales to tell and compel and the diverse nature means you’ll be discovering things on every listen. It’s one we’ll be playing over and over again.