The Front Bottoms — In Sickness & In Flames (8/21/20)

This New Jersey indie rock band caught my attention around 2013 after the release of their sophomore album Talon Of The Hawk. Frontman Brian Sella entertained with a quirky vocal delivery and I found a playfulness to the music as a whole. I didn’t get swept up in it the way many did though, as I believe they’ve garnered quite the devoted following.

For example, the song “Twin Size Mattress” from their sophomore is far and away their most streamed song on Spotify with over 44 M. Though I heard it back in the day, I hardly recognize it now, and I can see in the YouTube comments that it had a strong impact on a lot of fans.

Nothing from these guys has ever left that much of a mark on me. I found the music to be a little more silly than impactful overall, but I enjoyed the sound enough to keep them around.

Skipping ahead to this new album, I think I’ve found what I’ve been waiting for from The Front Bottoms. This is without a doubt the highest quality of music I’ve heard from the duo. They’ve always been a bit messy for my taste but this album seems to clean everything up for a much more polished and focused group of pop-rock music.

Brian Sella still has that unmistakable presence behind the mic and the music holds onto a bit of its acoustic-backed roots. The main difference I notice is that they’ve delivered some of the biggest hooks of their career with these songs. I’m not even going back for a refresher of their older stuff but all I know is that I never found anything so easy to digest from their past work as some of the songs on this album.

The first three singles all hinted towards a more hook-driven sound. The nervous energy and swaying sing-a-long chorus of “camouflage” holds an easy charm; “everyone blooms” shows a very full rock sound with a wonderfully encouraging message; “montgomery forever” fires off the biggest hook I’ve heard from these guys and is the type of song that makes me wish concerts were still a thing.

There’s more easy fun to be had with the playfully catchy “jerk” with its ear-worm vocal-processed lines, “The things like that don’t matter.” The penultimate “bus beat” has a nice bounce to it and balances its more serious focus on bettering yourself for another with some humorous additions from Sella (“I’m gonna learn how to siiing.”)

“the truth” is another one that appears to be centered around this special someone in Sella’s life (I think he might be engaged, maybe married). It’s a softer and more sentimental performance, Sella declaring, “You are the truth I choose to bend myself around,” backed by a humming synth bed.

The single “Fairbanks, Alaska” is a definite standout. The band toured through the city back in 2015 and it sounds like they got a sighting of the northern lights, which is what the song is based around. The song along with the music video which was shot in Fairbanks gives off a great appreciation for wide-open spaces and a life removed from the trials of a big city.

“new song d” has a special quality to it and it might just be my favourite of the album. Sella mixes spoken-word into their songs often and this one really shows off this anxious energy that I enjoy. It uses an offbeat drum formula as well that I find works wonders in music. The rising melancholic synths of the chorus and the soft but forceful melody create a very moving musical moment.

There’s a whole lot to enjoy on this album but I’m finding the songs to be just a little shy of contending for my top 100 of the year. Even at its strongest moments in “montgomery forever,” “new song d,” and “Fairbanks, Alaska,” I find there’s something holding me back from really wanting to play these songs over and over. Still, I’m loving the more polished, melodic direction The Front Bottoms have taken this album and I’m looking forward to seeing them continue to grow.

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