Hop Along are omnipotent on Bark Your Head Off, Dog

Bark Your Head Off, DogEvidentally, having their fans listen to an album and think, "This is great," is not good enough for Hop Along. The raw energy of their debut album Get Disowned didn't do it for them. Neither did the matured sound of sophomore Painted Shut, despite its Philly-brewed guitar and heartstring emotions. Now, they combine their arsenal to create Bark Your Head Off, Dog, and with it rouse one whopping, hysterical cry of, "Jesus Christ almighty, why do I bother to listen to anyone else?" from anyone sensible enough to hit play.

Outside the box? Yes. Charged with an inhuman electricity? Yes. Omnipotent...? For their third studio album, Francis Quinlan and company look to religion for inspiration, from the brotherly struggles of Cain and Abel ("Not Abel") to translating text into whatever you want it to be ("What the Writer Meant"). While other themes are also present and this is in no way a concept album, biblical references are interwoven into nearly every song. That's neither surprising or new (reference check: "Trouble Found Me" from Get Disowned, and Quinlan's recent tweet re the greatness of The Thermals' The Blood, The Body, The Machine). However, it's still a delight to find critical content that's warranted, fresh, and academic.

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Acting as an accomplice, Bark Your Head Off, Dog is also sung from the perspective of a woman who's through with being disempowered by men, prompting a massive DrunkenWerewolf shaped tick in thick black eyeliner before the opening track, "How Simple" has even finished. Quinlan's approach has already been well documented in the press for the album, where she admits the feeling has been a life-long precursor to her songwriting. But what's not spoken about often enough is Hop Along's ability to lace a message into their work without overpowering their playful creativity: this full length is bold and frank, but it's also poetic and in many ways obscured, like a secret diary that's waiting for the listener to open its pages. This kind of approach is so organic it can't possibly be orchestrated, but it's an amazing pull to the album and to Hop Along's music in general.

Cut through the subliminal messaging and you'll find some damn fine instrumentation. Hop Along have employed a string section to draw their loud/quiet dynamic even further forward. They use it to great effect on lead tracks "Not Abel", which has traditional Americana undertones, and "Prior Things", which sounds like it's been hauled out of a mentally broken orchestra's repertoire. The rawness of Get Disowned has been rediscovered ("The Fox in Motion") but so has the deathly melody of Painted Shut's "Sister Cities" on album highlight, "Somewhere a Judge". And then there are the hooks and one-liners that will get stuck in your head for days before they eventually become a permanent part of your brain. Hop Along make you want to Google their lyrics and write them on your arm like a teenager.

All things combined, the result is almost unspeakable goodness. Bark Your Head Off, Dog has something for every fan; every outsider; every woman; and anyone with ears. Now, we're going to stop writing about it and go and listen again.

Release: 6th April 2018, Saddle Creek
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