Review Summary: god, my fantasy baseball team sucks
On any one of her record's first plays—each one of them, when you listen for the first time—Frances Quinlan's voice can find a way to cut you in half. No matter how ready you are for it, and no matter how much you have come to expect it, a moment will come where your knee buckles or a cold chill zips up your neck to your thinning hairline. Quinlan's and her compatriot's effective re-constitution of 70's vibes into a constantly-evolving approach to indie folk/rock has always found new ways to make an old sound feel new, interesting, and, most importantly, authentic.
Bark Your Head Off, Dog
continues the Hop Along tradition insofar as it is sharp, well-produced indie rock accompanying Quinlan's bold lyrical earnestness. This is the band's hallmark sound, so loyalists can rejoice. What is different this time around, however, are broader and more grandiose instrumentation (read: some dope ass harp!) and something of a... brighter disposition. This is perhaps the poppiest the Philadelphia outfit has ever come across.
This new, sunnier Hop Along is perhaps just a function of Quinlan's telling of different stories—Quinlan remains one of the genre's best storytellers, and Bark Your Head Off, Dog
's songs retain that richly textual feel. As a reaction the album as a whole, I might be inclined to believe that this is obscured by comparisons to its predecessor, the similarly excellent Painted Shut
, which capably tread on some pretty dark reflections of the everyday. Yet, in the case of this new record, the loftier and more upbeat composition says enough. This album has an attitude all its own.
Consider, for example, the picturesque levity of "Somewhere a Judge" (and particularly its chorus). Consider also, for good measure, the punchy turn-up midway through "Not Abel," where the song's central question—posed amidst dense orchestral layering—is answered with a narrative break ("When you asked me that question, it sounded like a joke…
") offered alongside up-tempo riffage. This pep carries over into "The Fox in Motion," another up-tempo offering punctuated with hand claps and driven with a tambourine.
To be clear, these dynamic movements remain subtle, and it's not like Hop Along decided to suddenly write songs that are straight-up happy
or anything like that (gross!). The depth and intensity—other hallmarks of Hop Along—of these offerings remain intact. More appropriately, it's like these new songs embrace another side to that intensity, put forth in the name of, and the pursuit of, a perspective not shaped by such strange men. My 'cut down moment' on this album came in the second chorus of "One that Suits Me," a cheerily defeatist reminder that perspective is actually, and unfortunately, everything.