Fea­ture Hop Along

Exclaim! - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - by Cole Firth

LIS­TEN­ING TO HOP ALONG’S STEL­LAR FOURTH LP, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, it’s al­most hard to be­lieve the richly textured record was self­pro­duced. Fans will no doubt be struck by the lay­ers of strings, Rhodes and back­ing vo­cals woven into the band’s fa­mil­iar mix, while their four-piece in­stru­men­tal core sounds more pol­ished than ever and gels beau­ti­fully with a daz­zling ar­ray of over­dubs. It’s a unique chap­ter in their discog­ra­phy, but one that is sure to de­light long­time lis­ten­ers and new­com­ers alike.

Hop Along singer, gui­tarist and song­writer Frances Quin­lan makes clear that this is hardly a rest­less ex­per­i­men­tal turn, but rather the fullest re­al­iza­tion of what Hop Along’s sound has al­ways been ca­pa­ble of. “For [2015’s] Painted Shut, it came out the way it did just be­cause time was limited,” she says. “Com­ing out of that, we knew that for the next record we would re­quire more time in the stu­dio, so we tacked on a cou­ple ex­tra weeks to add lay­ers and strings and Rhodes and more back­ing vo­cals. We worked on these songs know­ing that we would have the free­dom to do as much as we wanted.”

The band cap­i­tal­ized by uti­liz­ing their own in-house en­gi­neer­ing ex­per­tise, and com­manded a rare au­ton­omy over the record­ing process. “We’re so for­tu­nate that our lead gui­tar player [Joe Rein­hart] is also an ex­cel­lent pro­ducer,” Quin­lan points out. “We’ve ac­tu­ally al­ways had that re­source, and tech­ni­cally all of our records have been made at his stu­dio. Had we gone some­where else, we would have had to cut time, be­cause it would not have been half as af­ford­able. Also, by pro­duc­ing ev­ery­thing our­selves, we were able to save money to spend on more time.”

Many tend to think of DIY in terms of low fi­delity and live­off-the-floor record­ing, but Hop Along’s strat­egy gave the nine songs on Bark Your Head Off the treat­ment they de­serve. Tak­ing ad­van­tage of time and let­ting things de­velop or­gan­i­cally is es­sen­tial to Quin­lan’s song­writ­ing process over­all and her lyrics are culled from years of note-tak­ing and re­flec­tion. “I write a lit­tle bit ev­ery day,” she says, “and 90 per­cent of the time, it won’t re­ally be­come any­thing but jour­nal en­tries. Maybe a mo­ment will strike me, though, and if it sticks with me long enough and af­fects me later on, then it has the po­ten­tial to be­come some­thing.”

On Bark Your Head Off , these cre­ative sparks emerge from his­tory as well as present ex­pe­ri­ence. Quin­lan de­scribes how the band spent hours on tour lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast about WWI that in­spired her to do fur­ther re­search on the sub­ject upon their re­turn to Philadel­phia. “I spent an af­ter­noon read­ing a bit more, and I think I ac­tu­ally wrote a fair chunk of the lyrics at the “Serv­ing peo­ple, you see that qual­ity we of­ten have, of feel­ing owed some­thing.” li­brary,” she says of the song “One That Suits Me.”

The al­bum’s sec­ond sin­gle, “Not Abel,” also has a lit­er­ary bent, tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from Karl Knaus­gård’s A Time for Ev­ery­thing and its por­trayal of the deeper brotherly re­la­tion­ship be­tween Cain and Abel. “He re­ally is able to give life to tiny mo­ments,” Quin­lan ex­plains, a qual­ity of­ten as­cribed to Hop Along’s song­writ­ing as well. “The do­mes­tic­ity of his ver­sion [of the story] re­ally struck me, which of course is not at all present in the Bi­ble. I like that it feels so real.” This more em­pa­thetic ap­proach trans­lates beau­ti­fully into the band’s own mu­si­cal in­ter­pre­ta­tion, which fea­tures their most am­bi­tious stu­dio ar­range­ment to date, in­cor­po­rat­ing sweep­ing string sec­tions and sub­tle plucks of man­dolin.

While the abil­ity to un­pack a va­ri­ety of sub­ject mat­ter is one of Quin­lan’s great­est strengths, there are re­cur­ring themes of power and pa­tri­archy threaded through Bark Your Head Off . “How You Got Your Limp” de­scribes a drunken pro­fes­sor be­ing cor­ralled out of a bar while loudly “con­demn­ing his stu­dents” and as­sert­ing his priv­i­lege, while a 19-year-old em­ployee is ar­rested at work and re-con­victed; and mil­i­tary gen­er­als bark or­ders and is­sue threats on “One That Suits Me.” Quin­lan notes how it is “so strange to be shaped by such strange men” on sev­eral dif­fer­ent songs, and the sen­ti­ment is sadly on point.

Doc­u­ment­ing these ev­ery­day alien­ations has al­ways been an in­te­gral part of Hop Along songs, and Quin­lan’s time in the de­mand­ing and of­ten-prob­lem­atic ser­vice in­dus­try has given her a first-hand per­spec­tive. “I feel more con­fi­dent writ­ing about that ex­pe­ri­ence than a pro­fes­sion I’ve never taken part in,” she ex­plains. “Serv­ing peo­ple, you see that qual­ity we of­ten have, of feel­ing owed some­thing. It’s a funny busi­ness. I think we find our­selves for­get­ting each other’s hu­man­ity all the time.”

De­spite chron­i­cling these oc­ca­sion­ally bleak mo­ments, Quin­lan doesn’t see things as gen­er­ally ir­repara­ble or hope­less. “I re­ally do not con­sider my­self a cyn­i­cal per­son, de­spite what my work might con­vey,” she says. “We’re see­ing peo­ple wake up in some re­spects, and I’d like to think that our fu­ture adults will do a lit­tle bit bet­ter than our pre­de­ces­sors.”

Hop Along’s fo­cus tends to be more quo­tid­ian, though, string­ing to­gether ex­pe­ri­ences and ob­ser­va­tions in or­der to pro­voke re­flec­tion rather than is­sue di­rec­tives. This is what makes songs like “Not Abel” so ef­fec­tive: a sub­tle re-fram­ing or re-con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion can call into ques­tion even the most fa­mil­iar fa­ble. “Good and bad aside, hu­mans are very com­pli­cated and I cer­tainly try to cap­ture that,” Quin­lan says. Over­all, Bark Your Head Off, Dog proves to be her most ef­fec­tive at­tempt yet, and its songs use ev­ery tool at the band’s dis­posal to pro­vide more lyri­cal and in­stru­men­tal de­tail than ever. The record may be Hop Along’s most am­bi­tious and pol­ished re­lease thus far, but in its essence it is a DIY mas­ter­piece.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.