Hop Along – Bark Your Head Off, Dog: Round 107 – Tom’s Choice

Given that we haven’t met for almost a year (and it’s early December), this felt like a ‘best of 2018’ evening in all but name. Out of the half dozen or so records I have purchased from this year (a ridiculously small sample size admittedly), I have had to concede to myself that Hop Along’s Bark Your Head Off Dog is my favourite.

I will admit that ‘have had to concede’ is a funny way of putting it but it’s how I felt as I went through the process of selection and found this coming out on top. Whilst I could have taken Low’s radical sounding Double Negative or Rolling Blackout’s motorik janglefest Hope Downs, or Georgia Anne Muldrow’s eclectic and soulful Overload, in the end the indiest choice won out and, as such, it felt almost like a guilty pleasure, the musical landscapes traversed on Bark Your Head Off, Dog being familiar territory for anyone who would have been taking their bowl haircut and misshapen jumper to the indie disco in the early to mid 90s (as I regularly did). In the end though this album was undeniable, the strength of the songwriting, the conviction of the performances and originality of the lyrics placing it, in my mind, in with a shout for the ‘best of the decade’ accolade that we will no doubt be wrestling with in 12 months time.

My first listen to BYHO,D was an underwhelming experience, as is so often the case when I first hear a future favourite; hooks being buried so deep within the writhing twists and turns of each of the song’s amazingly complex structures that on first listen they almost passed me by completely. However, I had already checked out Not Abel before buying the record and the fact that initially this sounded like the best of the bunch was perhaps an indicator of what was to come.

Sure enough, over the course of many listens over the balmy summer months of 2018, gradually each of the nine cuts on the album began to fall into place, so that eventually even the funereal How You Got Your Limp and its B-side sister, the ridiculously all over the place The Look Of Love (most definitely NOT an ABC cover) made sense, to such an extent that it was impossible to recall what was causing the problem in the first place.

And, strangely, once I had reached that point of understanding, Bark Your Head Off, Dog did the opposite of what so often happens and kept returning to my turntable. Why? Well, I don’t really know as I am always confused about how I choose the music I play but I imagine it’s a combination of the nostalgic qualities of the sound of the record, the multifarious qualities to Francis Quinlan’s voice (sometimes shrill, often sweet, occasionally raspy), the incredible drum and guitar work…and those lyrics, which are some of the most intriguing words put to song I have heard in a long, long while. Try these from Not Abel for starters:

The whole town lined up outside the tent
What those kids thought they saw
Do you really want to remember this?
Today, think of all the alien shots in the dark
That at one time, all at once, coexisted
I mean aside from all the burning
Hurry by the shanties beside the road
Sunset on a cart
Pulled home by a white horse
Conscience of the husband was righteous and coarse
There must be a limit
If we only circle around
There’s no hurry in reaching it
No idea what’s she’s going on about with these lyrics but, crucially, I want to work them out; for me, there is a sense of a greater meaning here, but I will need to sit down with the lyric sheet and have a really good think before I stand much of a chance deciphering the code! For a record to provoke such an investment of effort from me has to be pretty special and, despite not really breaking any new ground, Bark Your Head Off, Dog does everything so well that, as far as I am concerned, there was only ever really one choice for my AOTY.
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