Bop Along to Hop Along’s ‘Bark Your Head Off, Dog’
Carlos De Loera | Friday, April 13, 2018
On April 6, Hop Along released their third studio album, “Bark Your Head Off, Dog,” but many people may not have noticed this. It has become easier and easier for new releases to go unnoticed amidst an abundance of music, and while it would be easy enough to pinpoint this — along with the the fact that it was released by an indie artist on a small label — as the reason for the under-the-radar feel of the release, it’s rather a testament to the personality of the band. The face of the band is lead singer and guitarist Frances Quinlan, who shies away from the spotlight when she’s not performing. She doesn’t necessarily like doing interviews, comparisons to former greats and talking about herself in general. She prefers to let her music, with its rawness, constraint and depth, do the talking for her.
What quickly sticks out about Hop Along’s music in general is Quinlan’s voice, which has drawn comparisons to several different singers and has drawn her some acclaim. In an interview with Vulture in 2015, Quinlan said she often gets compared to Janis Joplin, a comparison she’s not particularly fond of because she is “not a huge Janis Joplin fan.” However, to say that she merely sounds like a reincarnation of Joplin would be incomplete. Quinlan’s voice is big and booming like Joplin, but it is also raspy and tremorous. It sounds specifically like a voice of generations past, while still feeling right at home in contemporary music. A closer approximation of her vocals might be Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries) meets Thom Yorke (Radiohead) or Mandy Lee (Misterwives) fused with Bon Scott (AC/DC). All of this is to say that her voice is uniquely hers.
Quinlan’s voice is complimented nicely by her songwriting ability. Her lyrics are thought provoking, layered and sometimes confusing. On the album’s opening track, “How Simple,” Quinlan sings, “Pale as a banshee sun / Think I should stop checking myself out / In the windows of cars / When I could see my future in her pictures of relatives.” The verse seems like three separate and distinct thoughts that are completely unrelated. They are. This camera wink of sorts highlights Quinlan’s ability to not take her songwriting process too seriously by providing the listener with an affable character with goofy tendencies, all with just four lines. This is then contrasted with her lyrics in “Not Abel,” which borrows biblical imagery: “Shirt bloodstained / And yet it was not Abel but Cain who got to hear / The voice that for so long had been a stranger / Not one word of all the time they spent growing up brothers / Even love, yes, even love, yes, even lose / Something to lose.” This somber portrait shows Quinlan pondering the ironic sense of biblical justice. Add on to this the expression of her curiosity, even perhaps sympathy, for Cain’s feelings after killing his brother. In “One That Suits Me” her tongue-in-cheek tone helps in underlining her views on the nature of men, in light of recent events like the Me Too movement: “In an open field, man is guilty always.”
All of this is not to say the album is strictly the Frances Quinlan show. The other instrumentalists’ contributions should not be overlooked, because they show up big throughout the production. Guitarist Joe Reinhart is able to shift seamlessly from authentic folk sounds to a sparkly ’80s pop tone to straight jam-sesh guitar. Drummer Mark Quinlan, brother of Frances Quinlan, and bassist Tyler Long provide for a solid rhythm section that occasionally has flashes of genius. Alongside these performances is the simple production of the album that allows the listeners to focus in on the raw musicianship of the performers.
All of these elements together help make this one of the best albums of this young year.
Artist: Hop Along
Album: “Bark Your Head Off, Dog”
Label: Saddle Creek
Favorite Tracks: “The Fox in Motion,” “What the Writer Meant,” “Look of Love”
If you like: Misterwives, Paramore, The Cranberries, Alanis Morissette
Shamrocks: 4 out of 5