Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog
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Following their Billboard debut, the John Agnello-produced Painted Shut, by three years, Bark Your Head Off, Dog is the self-produced third LP for Philadelphia indie rock group Hop Along. Fans will find much of what they appreciated about Painted Shut here, as bandleader Frances Quinlan returns with more of her evocative lyricism delivered with a spontaneity that extends to the whole band. Unlike Painted Shut, a more expansive sound includes synths, a string section, and backing vocalists. The results occasionally surprise, as on "Not Abel," a song whose acoustic guitar and plucked and bowed strings are part of a chamber arrangement that captures a certain blues-rock demeanor even before the electric guitars kick in. The track also bears the off-kilter rhythmic and melodic quality of the group's prior work, which they quickly reestablish on the opener, "How Simple," with passing moments of dissonance, jerky syncopation, and leaping intervals that move between bandmembers as the rest drive steadily forward. On Bark Your Head Off, Dog, that quality sometimes extends to timbre, as well. On the relatively jaunty "Somewhere a Judge," conspicuous vocal processing makes an appearance, if briefly, on a track that has Quinlan wondering why she's always so mean when she stops by. Elsewhere, strong vocal harmonies and sunny chords mark the chorus of "Look of Love," a song that also includes references to hospitalized authors, barely legible handwriting, and dreams of spiders crawling across the bed. While something is almost always askew, on average, the album feels a little broader and brighter than Painted Shut. Thankfully, it does so without sacrificing lyrical impact or smoothing out Hop Along's distinctive, compelling sound.