Hop Along may not write the world's greatest hooks, but they surely know the point where music ceases to be just music and becomes ecstatic. Most bands would bark their heads off for a chance to swap places.
I first noticed this band three years ago, when they released "Waitress" that had all the angst and the torture of the embarrassing social situation it described. The single had vocal lines that were so euphoric they basically scraped against the tender surface of your heart. The accompanying LP may not have scaled such perfect heights, but it was still light years ahead of most of their peers. It was inventive and it was intense. Bark Your Head Off, Dog had little room to go, screaming-wise.
And this is the odd part. Despite its colourful name, this new album doesn't try to outscream Painted Shut. In fact, it's a much more settled and homogenous affair, the sound of maturity filled with subtle orchestration. Make no mistake, Hop Along is still about Frances Quinlan and her vocal style that is absolutely central to your liking this band. I personally find it emotional and hard-hitting, that most beautiful sort of screeching, but I can assume it could be an acquired taste to many.
On Dog, Frances still screams when she feels like it but increasingly there is a sense that she only does it when she absolutely has to. And my God are these moments brilliant. "Not Abel", for instance, as good a song as you are going to hear this year, has a vocal section that will blow you away in the same way that "Waitress" did three years ago. Only "Not Abel" has an extra layer to it, an extra part, an extra melody.
Which is where Bark Your Head Off, Dog outperforms Painted Shut. Still part screaming, part absolute fucking euphoria, it's a much more thoughtful and complex album, effortlessly catchy ("Somewhere A Judge" will stay with you for days) and effortlessly elegant (the closing "Prior Things" makes me look forward to their future records). Plus, their sense of taste is undeniable - that cover art looks fitting, and oddly beautiful.