Hop Along Bark Your Head Off, Dog

Hop Along Bark Your Head Off, Dog
9
Whether she's singing about a rattling work experience, the pains of self-reflection, or World War I, Hop Along's Frances Quinlan has a knack for making even the most specific situations feel instantly relatable. This sense of approachability and solidarity is especially palpable on the band's fourth album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, which is by far their poppiest and most grandiose release yet.
 
Rather than coming across as polished or overproduced, the record's razor-sharp hooks and elaborate arrangements actually serve to draw the listener further into Hop Along's open-ended short stories. Lead single, "How Simple," for example, calls out "don't worry, we will both find out, just not together" with rousing gang vocals that feel all-inclusive despite the inherent ambivalence of that phrase. The domesticized pseudo-biography of Cain, "Not Abel," uses carefully placed mandolin and sweeping strings to build a cinematic atmosphere while leaving space for Quinlan's excellent vocal performance. On "Somewhere a Judge," a touch of vocoder warps her distinctive cadence for a slight moment before the track comes to its unusually jaunty conclusion.
 
Longtime fans of the band will find familiarity within the songs on Bark Your Head Off, despite its embellished approach. Quinlan still jams zig-zagging melodies into every song with breathtaking ease. Songs describe characters and places as though you've already met them or been there. Themes of power and patriarchy are highlighted in her repeated observation of how it is "so strange to be shaped by such strange men."
 
Hop Along are the kind of band whose records inspire fierce loyalty and foster deep personal connection, which makes Bark Your Head Off seem like a gamble, given its broader palette. It only takes a few listens to realize that it is really the fulfillment of the band's potential, though. You could have said it after pretty much any of their previous releases, but once again, Hop Along are truly a band at the top of their game. (Saddle Creek)