The Front Bottoms
Fueled By Ramen · October 13, 2017
The Front Bottoms deliver 37 minutes of mediocre indie rock.
[three_fourth]Brian Sella and Mat Uychich, the New Jersey natives and childhood friends behind The Front Bottoms, have been writing songs for about a decade now. In the beginning, Sella’s raw emotional performances coupled with unpolished DIY production gathered a cult fanbase. Much of the band’s early work was recorded in various basements at stops along the band’s first tours. This rough and tumble sound continued to inspire their music on their first full length albums, The Front Bottoms and Talon of the Hawk. But everything changed when the band left Bar None Records in favor of Fueled By Ramen, the indie-pop label known for acts such as Panic! At The Disco and Twenty One Pilots. A clear shift occurred at this point, evident in the band’s first album under FBR, Back On Top. Sella and Uychich left behind the acoustic instrumentation and vocal imperfections, opting for a glossy, well-produced reinvention of their sound.
Which brings us to the latest project from The Front Bottoms, Going Grey. Although the title implies themes of getting older and feeling the effects of aging, The Front Bottoms haven’t matured a bit on this album. Going Grey feels mostly like B-Sides from Back On Top, with some rough acoustic strumming or a staged voice crack occasionally thrown in as an attempt to appeal to fans who miss the band’s old sound. As a result, this record ends up feeling like an attempt to return to the band’s old style while trying to maintain their relatively newfound production quality. And those two things are hard to reconcile on one record.
The album starts off strong enough with ‘You Used to Say,’ one of the more inspired tracks. The opener actually got my hopes up, it does a good job of combining the band’s early songwriting with the new direction they clearly want to continue towards. But then we quickly degrade as the record continues. ‘Peace Sign’ provides a catchy hook, but is nothing special, and ‘Bae’ feels like a parody of a Front Bottoms song despite being performed unironically.
‘Vacation Town,’ one of the lead singles, sums up how I feel about the band in the chorus as Sella sings “I miss the way things used to be” over and over again. However this song does feel like one of Brian’s more earnest vocal performances, and long-time fans will be happy to hear the word “comfortable” come out of his mouth once again. Then we get a slew of forgettable filler tracks like ‘Don’t Fill Up On Chips,’ whose instrumental sounds like it would play behind a TV spot for Target’s latest back-to-school marketing campaign. And ‘Grand Finale,’ which sounds less like a grand finale, and more like a Cage The Elephant B-Side with some unnecessary vocal filters thrown on top.
‘Raining,’ another single, is probably my favorite song off this project. It’s a good demonstration that the band’s writing style works better with simple production, relying on just some well-balanced drums and tasteful electric guitars to supplement Brian’s vocals. But this satisfaction doesn’t last long since it’s followed by one of the worst cuts off the record, ‘Far Drive.’ Perhaps the title is fitting, seeing as the instrumental here sounds like stock music for a car commercial. And finally, the album ends with ‘Ocean,’ which provides us with nothing more than a tacky chorus and some beach sound effects to close the record. After 37 minutes of mediocre indie rock, I couldn’t help but wonder: is that really it? That’s the whole album?
No longer do The Front Bottoms deliver interesting stories and imagery in their songs as they have in the past with tracks like ‘Lone Star’ or ‘Swimming Pool.’ And in place of those days, all we get are cliche guitar tones and sugary synth lines. Perhaps one day The Front Bottoms will find the right balance between the excellent songwriting of their early work and the desired sonic direction of Back On Top. But until then, all we’re left with is a meager shell of what the band used to be.
Listen to Going Grey here: