Blessed are the emo at heart as Hop Along, royalty of woe and heart-wrench, returns with another record of skewed songwriting. Painted Shut progressed her sound further from its entrenched sparsity and its follow-up doubles down on the dynamism: Bark Your Head off, Dog, is a record that collects older and more nostalgic pop influences into the usual broth of grunge, folk and open source feelings.
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We’re gonna call this one ‘Bark’ to avoid semantic complications. Heart-wrench royalty Frances Quinlan has been hammering her Hop Along band into the wall for a good while, now, though you might argue ‘Painted Shut’ was her watershed moment; her raw songwriting continues its melodic adjustments with ‘Bark’, with blasted hooks given new trinket arrangements and sonic plateaus.
Are we having fun yet, yes we are: these songs slip into full-on wackiness like it’s woe’s cousin, the bouncy chords of “Somewhere A Judge” combining with fret-muted guitar slickness. “Not Abel” is Quinlan working on some sort of hybrid song stand-up, the lovely string plucks and twangs sounding off somewhere between medieval and country rock; actually, it might be my favourite Hop Along song ever, so I’m laughing all the way to the proverbial bank. The songs retain Quinlan’s heavy-hearted and furiously blasted hooks, but they get to them in different ways, coming around different corners -- her voice, growling and groaning, dangles itself off a silent cliff before “One that Suits Me” gets into twinkling keys and pop-punk riff whining.
Is “Prior Things” the genre’s “Eleanor Rigby”? Withdrawn, your honour. The heart of the matter is that Hop Along is ever impatient with the idea of staying put; ‘Bark’ councils sadness and struggle with little, hard-won innovations. A lot of indie rock's been surprising me with versatile left-turns this year; add this to a pile of resurgent grumble.
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