Anna Marketti ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Music Editor
Rising out of the New Jersey punk scene and skateboarding on the wave of their success into the mainstream, The Front Bottoms have become a staple in the emo punk revival. Brian Sella’s personal lyrics offer a narrative quality in that nasal, sometimes whiny voice of his that makes him and their music so endearing. But the group seems to have lost touch with that in their latest release Back On Top.
The Front Bottoms’ third full-length release Back On Top comes to us after a seemingly overnight skyrocket to stardom that followed 2013’s Talon Of The Hawk single “Twin Size Mattress.” With the assistance of Tumblr, as well as their relatable lyrics, The Front Bottoms were faced with crowds screaming their songs louder than they could. Back On Top seems to have distanced itself from this enthusiasm–instead of giving the fans even more of what they’ve already tasted and loved, Back On Top has taken a step back. Diluted, bubbly pop-informed riffs stumble from Sella’s guitar as he smirks through rushed lines.
“Cough It Out” was released earlier this summer, accompanied by a very summer, very New Jersey video of Sella and drummer Mathew Uychich. This track seems to have retained more of their roots in the esoteric lines Sella is known for. “I like the in betweens,” he croons. “I like the time it takes to get somewhere.”
But where the album falls short is in its commercial quality. Migrating from Bar/None Records to the pop-stuffed label Fueled By Ramen this summer, The Front Bottoms led fans to voice their concern regarding the band becoming, well, sell outs. Fostering the likes of Cobra Starship and Twenty One Pilots, it’s no surprise that bands signed to FBR are destined for stadium shows and chart-topping, radio-friendly hits. Just don’t take our precious Front Bottoms, the band who rose from songs titled “Pale Beneath The Tan (Squeeze)” to the uncomfortably twang-styled “Summer Shandy.”
It’s not all bad, though. The beloved shy guys still have some growing up to do, and Back On Top isn’t their selling (out) point just yet. A song like “Historic Cemetery” embraces the nuances that attract misfits from the dankest corners of the earth. Featuring mellow synth tracks highlighting Sella’s bouncy lyrics serenading the oft-forgotten of the world, Back On Top capitalizes on the stoner culture that’s sprung up around The Front Bottoms. “Just you and me, getting high, and hanging out. Getting high and messing around. Getting high, trying to figure it out.” Oh come all ye lonely, broken, and lost. The Front Bottoms excel at romanticizing and questioning the awkward silences that live and linger in between true romance and friendship. In an interview with PropertyOfZack, Sella proclaimed, “The line was originally, ‘I bought weed. A big bag in Pennsylvania. I’m gonna light it up when I get home to Jersey.’ We changed it because none of us have bought drugs or smoked ganja. Ever.” Whatever you say, Brian.
A song they’d been playing in concerts preceding Back On Top’s release, “The Plan (F*** Jobs),” falls into an interesting place on the album. The performances indicated that it was one of the essential backbones of the album, and yet when it finally saw the studio, the song took off in a completely different direction. It’s this strange, ambient noise like a pop cousin to what The Front Bottoms stand for. It is rebellion disguised, hesitating to act on its full potential.
And so it goes for The Front Bottoms. Fueled By Ramen could prove a frugal success for their career, but it certainly isn’t proving to be a musical highlight in it. Here’s to hoping our boys return to that uncomfortable awkwardness that uncomfortably brought them uncomfortable success.