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Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Saddle Creek)

Hop Along - Bark Your Head Off, Dog
30 April 2018

Some artists write with hopes that their lyrics will end up as tattoos on the arms of fans, and Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan has always written with a sliver of that immortality potential. Yet rather than take it in a universal direction, she channels her savvy diction in favor of small, personal glimpses ranging from memorial (“Daddy giving the middle finger to the Kodak lens”) to confessional (“Think I should stop checking myself out in the windows of cars”)—the latter having been cemented as a reoccurring theme in the band’s early classic “Tibetan Pop Stars.” The Philadelphia group’s third full-length together Bark Your Head Off, Dog ends their journey towards prog-pop perfection, as their mastery of the niche they represent has graduated from boldly striving to fully realized.

“Somewhere a Judge” outdoes previous LP Painted Shut’s “Waitress” as their premiere nugget of sophisticated pop expertise. Quinlan’s penchant for crafting formidable hooks only erupts with greater magnitude with each release. Precisely here is where it rockets to its flashpoint, as “Judge” doubles down on not just one, but two fantastic refrains: first the warm, picturesque summary of an “afternoon vanilla sun,” then the infectious outro of the brilliantly stuttered I-statement, “I-I don’t know why/I’m so mean each time I come to visit.”

Three albums deep, it’s still disorienting to know that it’s Joe Reinhart we’re hearing, squealing out leading lines from his guitar instead of the open-tuning tricky fingering he employed not long ago in Algernon Cadwallader. The straightforward rocking style of late suits him just as well, although in a brief exposition of night-and-day, he does remind us of his old self in “What the Writer Meant” with some unmistakable fret-tapping wizardry.

Much of Hop Along’s superficial complication often boils down to compositional time-outs. Mark Quinlan’s shift from tempered snare to an excited bustle of tambourine in “The Fox in Motion.” An early, unexpected breakdown of bare bones drum, bass, and vocals in “How Simple.” Laying low and pouncing at the right moment is a tactic they apply to conducting just as jungle cats do for executing prey. It’s the sort of foolproof method that brings the shake appeal of “Fox” up to staggering heights. Its chorus is good-natured, danceable fun by way of Gin Blossoms’ slacker-infused, easygoing rock template, but its verse finds the band on a regimen more dynamic than the Blossoms could ever aspire to be.

It doesn’t take holding a decoding ring up to their apparent headiness to reveal the frequent usage of key changes and song sectionals at play. Bark’s namesake climax “Look of Love” and “Not Abel” contain between the two of them a handful of each; songwriting tendencies that often strike awe and can’t help but blur genre confines due to their nobility. Bewilderment over this latest batch cannot be indebted to any defined science—they just know how to wow by the cleverest and most economic means.

You may purchase the album here.