The third album release from indie punk band The Front Bottoms brings in new instruments to accompany the quirky and angsty goodness that is Brian Sella.
Back on Top brings a mature sound to a band that was made famous for being quirky. The album uses a different production and sound value, which can be seen in the clearness of each instrument and the synthesized twang placed on every lyric. Elements from the past two albums are still present in Back on Top such as the style of anecdotes as lyrics and if you listen closely, you can hear backup female vocals that were introduced on a few songs such as the self-titled album’s “Flashlight.” For dedicated fans, it’s little connections like that between albums that make listening to the discography more of story-telling experience. If the first two albums were sarcastic introductions to the hardships of being an adult, Back on Top is the perfect addition to a trilogy making light of all the crap we go through.
The album kicks off with “Motorcycle” and “Summer Shandy,” both lighthearted tunes that bump along without any snags. Although they’re catchy songs, nothing about them stood out too terribly much.
“Cough It Out” and “HELP,” tracks three and four off of the album, were released earlier as singles and already gained prominence through streaming services like Spotify and Youtube. The songs were originally met with criticism for such a different sound with the main complaint being that it was more electronic than the indie acoustic sound that made The Front Bottoms famous. The straight-forward confessional lyrics that made the band popular can still be found in places like when Sella repeats, “I am delusional with love,” or “I don’t know what I’m going to do about anything.”
“Laugh Till I Cry” shows off Sella’s impressive vocal range, putting lots of emphasis on his accent that set The Front Bottoms apart from others. The use of sound effects like a motorcycle when the lyrics scream “motorcycle” makes this track one of my favorites off of the album.
“Historic Cemetary” for someone that sings about “getting high” so much, Sella has openly admitted to not being a fan of smoking. The irony of that only adds to the humor found in dark places of the album. Sella touches on difficult topics, particularly on how to deal with emotional hardships through relationships, personal importance, and our place in the universe. This track brings in a singer other than Sella that spits dark spoken word about drug abuse over a bright and poppy synthesizer. Nothing could epitomize The Front Bottoms better than that.
“The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” is another personal favorite, because it starts off with a quieter acoustic guitar that lets Sella show off his lyrics and voice. Kicking off with personal faults like hypocrisy through lyrics like “when my mind is uncertain, my body decides,” “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)” accomplishes what the rest of the album is hinting at. It balances the Front Bottoms sound that everyone is used to with its new elements in a way that welcomes the listener to something new.
“Ginger” and “West Virginia” are more of those catchy filler album songs that give the listener something to jam with their friends on a road trip or something to blast at a party. “West Virginia” manages to show the goofy side of Sella that has been missing a little on this album. He even slips in “ride or die” to describe some friends in West Virginia, whom he also gives a personal shout out.
The ninth track, “2YL,” is another favorite. It’s a shout-out to the tingly feelings you get from romance with cute little stories that could rival the perfect dates we’ve dreamt about. A instrumental break with a large trumpet section is refreshing and a great addition to the lightness of this song after which Sella professes his affection, saying “I can be the rainbow in your sky” and his willingness to be there for someone else.
The hardest part of closing an album is picking the perfect track to finish the list. “Plastic Flowers” is a great end to a blossoming album. The highlight is the mid-song monologue that Sella speaks, encouraging everyone to chant along to the chorus of “I believe that someone’s got a plan for me even if I don’t know it yet.” “Plastic Flowers” tags a bigger sound with more background vocals, leading up to a the conclusion of their discography so far: even though things are hard now, it will work out in the end. Another added bonus is that if you’re listening to the album on repeat, the end of “Plastic Flowers” flows perfectly into the beginning of “Motorcycle,” bringing everything full circle for round two, three, and four.
Overall, Back on Top brings a new sound that evenly splits the album into songs that sound vaguely like “old Front Bottoms” and songs that scream “new Front Bottoms.” Characterized with chanted choruses and those certain lyrics that stay hooked in your mind long after the song is finished, Back on Top is a light-sounding but hard-hitting addition to the musical arsenal of The Front Bottoms.
Tracks to check out: “Cough It Out,” “2YL,” “Plastic Flowers,” “Laugh Till I Cry.”
While attending the University of Georgia for magazine journalism and music business, Maria still finds time to binge watch The X-Files and collect art socks. The proud owner of a floor length fur coat, Maria plans to Throwdown with Bobby Flay and finally stop procrastinating, eventually. Her passions include black clothing, petting other people's cats and making blanket forts in her apartment, but she is also above-average excited about horoscopes, bento boxes and emo music.