Throughout their decade–long career, The Front Bottoms have been referred to as some twisted, whiny hybrid of folk and punk. Retaining a little of the punk and nearly none of the folk on their fourth studio album, Going Grey—they've created something new in sound but still utterly familiar in content and feel.
Critics attack the Front Bottoms for the whininess of vocalist Brian Sella’s voice and the cynical way he chooses to approach his subject material (which is almost always relationships). But Going Grey is their second effort with big–name label Fueled By Ramen, and the band has finally caught up with major–label sound without losing the lyrical and vocal relatability that connects listeners to Sella’s internal thoughts.
This sentiment is perhaps clearest in “Everyone But You,” an upbeat, pop–tinged track that features lyrics like, “Can’t get happy, can’t get sad / It’s hard to do / When I hate everyone but you.” This track feels like The Front Bottoms but artificially catchier—with an increased amount of synth that tends to dominate nearly every track on the album.
In an attempt to hit a new realm of sound with wider appeal, The Front Bottoms have sacrificed the rawness that made them stand out in the first place. If not for Sella’s unwavering lyrical skill and unique voice, perhaps this album would be unrecognizable in the band’s catalog. Luckily, Sella’s vulnerable lyrical power shines on this album just as bright as it did in old songs like “Twin Size Mattress,” especially on “Don’t Fill Up On Chips” and album closer “Oceans.”
Sella dials back the new pop sound with “Raining,” the first single released off the new album. The acoustic guitars that defined the band’s early sound dominate the song, but in a way that feels much more polished and refined. The lyrics are vulnerable and introspective (“It was raining when they let me out of the hospital / I had nothing in my pockets / Still had the bracelet on”)—maintaining the band's characteristic tenderness without the cynicism that people love to criticize. This track hits the peak of the band’s new sound perfectly, balancing a new attempt at mainstream success with their past.
With this most recent effort, The Front Bottoms show us that they’re capable of upgrading to mainstream major–label sound without losing the essence of what makes them a beloved part of the indie–rock music scene. They’re currently touring on the new record and will hit Philly on Nov. 22 at the Fillmore.