Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Album Review, Stream)
by Steven Spoerl
A small sampling of some excellent records to find release were already given a few posts back but to not mention the records put out by Bambara, Pole Siblings, Big Buddy, Look Vibrant, Stimmerman, No Thank You, dné, and Breakfast Muff would be doing everyone a massive disservice. All of those records are worth exploring, as always, but the record that this post’s going to focus on is one that registers as a standout for a long list of reasons: Hop Along’s breathtaking Bark Your Head Off, Dog.
Hop Along, over the course of their history, have built up a fervent following that’s greeted the band’s music as if it were their own religion. Even a cursory run through their discography would help contextualize that response, as their catalog’s full of blisteringly intense and incredibly emotional pleas, statements, and revelations. The band seems to be constantly operating in a do-or-die mode, where literally everything needs to be put on the line and defended with every last ounce of vigor the members can muster.
They’ve already put out two records that many hold as sacred, in Get Disowned and Painted Shut, virtually guaranteeing any news of new material would be greeted as an event with a capital E. A cathartic live show built and shaped by years of intense touring and the band’s proven record in studio had everyone bracing for another towering record full of the life-or-death dynamics that have become the band’s established pattern.
To their credit, Hop Along took a massive artistic risk and subverted that formula to deliver the most measured and nuanced work of their career. More impressively, they found a way to retain the level of emotional catharsis that’s earned them such a devoted following. Bark Your Head Off, Dog is an incredibly ambitious record, with things like imposing orchestral arrangements scattered throughout its runtime.
From the record’s opening track, “How Simple”, it seems as if it’ll be business as usual for a while, with the band echoing the late-career work of Rilo Kiley (another band with notable ties to Saddle Creek) but it offers glances towards something a little different. Even with that lingering sense things might be about to change, the closing minutes find room for a vintage Hop Along moment with the repeated mantra of “Don’t worry, we will find out, just not together.”
It’s at that moment that the record — and the band’s slightly revamped dynamic approach — start to click into place. Across the rest of the record, they take small risks to arrive at maximum impact, keeping the listener on their proverbial toes, causing them to lean in and invest. As a tactic, it’s incredibly effective and the band uses it masterfully throughout some of the most impressive work of their career.
Bark Your Head Off, Dog is more than just one impressive arrangement after another, though, and Hop Along grants it as much — if not more — emotional heft than either of there previous two outings. There are times where the record goes beyond feeling personal and tips into feeling like it was borne out of necessity. Thankfully, for us, we can now reap the rewards of that need with what’s bound to stand the test of time and remain one of 2018’s most incredible records.
Listen to Bark Your Head Off, Dog below and pick it up from Saddle Creek.