Hop Along — Bark Your Head Off, Dog

Saddle Creek | hopalong.bandcamp.com

A balance of spindly style and sunkissed substance

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Gold, alone /
Clinging to a stem
Pretty soon this will be a skeleton /
Metropolises before /
Silent and smouldering /
Above, the wild giant wailed /
Never will I do that again

The freak-folk quartet grew unsummoned and unwatered like dusty weeds in the barren wilderness of Philadelphia. On their fourth studio album, Hop Along drily consider life, the universe and everything through the handblown prism of cryptic, haunting imagery.

Through the phone I pull you and drag your voice around

Each song ripples and bristles in its own particular way, a tottering anti-Jenga lattice strung and restrung with sinew and succulent needles. Every additional element sticks out obliquely — a major chord muddled with an added fourth, a backup vocal that slips a step or two out of harmony, an extra bar interposed between structures, an unexpectedly violent image in an otherwise withering portrait — but always maintaining a lopsided balance.

We saw him in one brutal gesture tear that rabbit open”

Of particular note are the repeated references to the sun, a recurring image that takes on a different meaning each time it resurfaces: sunlight, sunshine, sunbathing and sunburns, sunrises and sunsets, confused and frightened suns in horse-driven carts, afternoon vanilla suns crawling away across the lawn, the sun is yellow and the ground is moving, suns of colours and shapes and forms and positions and motives that are fascinatingly unsunlike.

Hop Along chase their tail around and around, each completed orbit less and less to do with capturing that elusive sun and more and more to do with satisfying the need to run another lap.

Strange to be shaped by such strange men /
It’s the hottest summer again

Deep beneath the cracked clay lies a secret loam, rich and dark and moist with surprise. Come and dig a hole. There may be bones buried here. There may be more.

Years from now you will build beautiful black flowers /
I came home and you directed with your hardened hand /
All of your birds who have come back to dine and rest in your garden again