This review originally appeared in The Penmen Press on November 1, 2017
The newest record from New Jersey act The Front Bottoms has landed a far cry away from the basements and bedrooms that gave the band life. The band has returned with new sounds, a new perspective, but also the reassurance that it’s going to be okay, the same boys are still there underneath.
The best descriptor for The Front Bottoms has always been something along the lines of “folky pop punk,” but hearing the synths and drums that usher in opener “You Used to Say” give a new listener no indication of this.
Previous to “Going Grey,” the band put out their first “major” label record on Fueled by Ramen, the same label hosting bands like Twenty One Pilots, Panic! At the Disco, and Fall Out Boy. That record was the sound of growing pains; the newness of more expensive production techniques clashed with the band’s DIY ethics and the result was a band unsure of who they wanted to be.
“You Used to Say” is admittedly off-putting for longtime fans but necessary to set a different tone for the record to come.
On “Going Grey” the band shares a new perspective. The band has made a name for themselves by writing about the insecurities of your late teens and early twenties. Now they can look at the hollow feelings behind those bad relationships and binges in past-tense, with the wisdom only time can bring.
In this way, “Grand Finale” is the culmination of this change. It looks back on those parties sung about in “The Beers,” a track from six years ago (Encore, night is almost over, I’m bored, wanna leave/ It felt good before but now it’s getting older, ‘Cause there’s no more empathy). Musically, the heavy guitars and thick synths create the sound the band were striving for on their last album.
The Front Bottoms create some of their most complex arrangements yet on “Going Grey.” “Vacation Town,” a song where singer Brian Sella compares himself to a resort during the off-season, begins as an acoustic rocker and introduces electric instrumentation, guitar solos, trumpets, pianos, and even drum machines. All of it flows together in a way that feels familiar with an undoubtedly pleasant polish.
While “Going Grey” is the sound of progress, not every experiment hits. Most notable is the production used on Sella’s voice. While it’s evident he’s put a lot of work into improving his technique, in tracks like “Far Drive” and the especially sparse “Raining,” the unnecessary synthetic “fixes” stick out and detract from the experience.
“Going Grey” shows that The Front Bottoms have embraced their ability to stretch beyond the limitations of the basement demos that made them famous. The record is a collection of fun and thoughtful pop-rock tunes that show that, while The Front Bottoms don’t have a choice about the passage of time, they can choose to grow as people and musicians