I can’t imagine that either Frances Quinlan, or her Philadephia-based quartet, Hop Along¸ are frequently mentioned in dispatches alongside The Baha Men. But their third album, Bark Your Head Off, Dog, takes a dim view of similarly cocksure, canine sensibilities in human, masculine form to the ones depicted in the Bahamian reggae fusion, Grammy-winning (no shit) ‘Who Let The Dogs Out?’ Intense, often abstract or anecdotal, Quinlan uses these songs to redefine her own world as one where the validation of a man is inessential and the presence of one as a partner is optional, not fundamental.
It’s a paradoxical world into which the band launches Bark Your Head Off, Dog. We’ve grasped the nettle of historic misogyny recently, making more and more louche douches accountable for past misdeeds. Yet, as any horticulturalist will aver, nettles are persistent bastards. They’re hard to get rid of and the world still stings. On the subject of ‘grasping,’ we are definitely still putting big dogs in the global kennels of power who have self-confessed penchants for grabbing ladies by the loins. As Quinlan herself has come to observe over time, “Power has an inherent awfulness.”
There’s an uplifting power, though, in the energetic nature of how liberating these songs feel. It’s as if there has been something pleasantly epiphanic in writing them and cathartic in recording them. What is doubly satisfying is that both of those enlightening feelings can be shared by the listener. There’s an exhilarating, restless groove to their alt-rock sound more or less throughout. Players of ‘air drums’ will be in their element.
The album title stems from a dead dog in the track ‘Look of Love’. Whether or not the ‘dog’ is real or a metaphor matters not. He’s been run over. The narrator doesn’t care. His noise has been silenced. In ‘How You Got Your Limp’ an old windbag is told, “I can hear you;/ The whole bar can,” in the withering way you feel emboldened to chastise your parents once they’ve regressed back into being the children in the relationship. There’s little or no anger in the repeated phrase, “So strange to be shaped by such strange men,” rather a quizzical shrug that such strangeness was ever abided.
Immediately after that phrase in ‘Not Abel,’ the song falls into sonic chaos, stops and then restarts, revitalised, with a frisky rock ending. Quinlan concludes the album by declaring, “I resume my little lower road,” without any hint of self-flagellation. Neither “little” nor “lower” sound inferior, merely pleasant, humble and uncomplicated. What you hear is “I” and “my,” evoking personal strength, and “resume” and “road,” bringing purpose and self-direction. As for the dogs, they can jog on, or hop along, as it were.
Bark Your Head Off, Dog doesn’t stop the average mutt from shitting everywhere or leaving the place covered in pheromones, but it reminds all of us that his barking, is just an airy cacophony. It’s just noise, noise that with suitable levels of right-thinking, can be ignored and quickly allowed to echo off into the forgotten past, whilst this album’s noise resonates and endures.
Bark Your Head Off Dog was released on 6th April via Saddle Creek