A talon is the claw of an animal, usually on a bird of prey. I start my review with this definition because the name of the new LP from The Front Bottoms is The Talon of the Hawk and the choice is odd. The group is so non-threatening and their sound so appealing that likening it to a bird of prey’s claw is baffling. But while digging deeper into the album, the listener cannot help but fall victim to the catchy hooks and quirky lyrics that has gained the New Jersey duo a devout following over the past year, so it seems that they may have planned it just right.
When I first caught them live opening for Kevin Devine and An Horse at CMJ in 2011, the group had maybe five admirers in the crowd, most notably Kevin himself who sprinkles the group’s lyrics throughout his own songs and tweets has tweeted about them vigorously. By June 2012 when the group supported Motion City Soundtrack on tour, you would’ve sworn they were the headliners, playing to a raucous crowd during an energetic set. In addition, the group has found themselves on the big stage with Say Anything and Bad Books, further building their base.
Following up their popular 2011 self-titled effort is no small feat. The album featured lyrics that have cemented themselves into their fans’ minds and hooks and melodies that are impossible to forget, especially on the hits like “Maps”, “Rhode Island”, and “The Beers”. Luckily, they were equal to the daunting task, churning out 12 songs that are fun to sit back and listen to when you have some time to kill and just feel like enjoying your day.
A tambourine greets us on the album’s short, punchy opener “Au Revoir (Adios)” as vocalist and acoustic guitarist Brian Sella taunts in his generally playful tone “Au revoir, au revoir, you probably don’t even know what that means.” The song was debuted by the group on their headlining tour last fall but sounds stronger and fuller in-studio with an additional electric guitar and drums section that compliments the more hushed intro quite nicely and prepares the listener for the album’s equal attack of softer acoustic indie-pop and raucous dance-rock pop-punk.
“Skeleton” shines with its thick bass line that acts as a bed underneath Mathew Uychich crashing drum licks and a punk-influenced guitar riff as Brian laments “I walk around like a skeleton last night/ confused and alone/ who was I kidding? I can’t get past you/ You are the cops/ you are my student loans.” “Twin Size Mattress”, the album’ first single, brings back that familiar indie-pop sound the band utilized so well on their self-titled album and is reminiscent of fan-favorite “Swimming Pool.” Santa Monica is a hook-filled 4-minute track whose chorus soars with toe-tapping and head-bobbing delight. The Feud is acoustic punk at its finest and sees Mathew’s drumming stealing the show. “Back Flip” is one of the band’s best songs, a fast-paced indie-punk track that starts with a thumping drum roll that leads to the crunchy acoustic guitars that will have you dancing in no time flat
Brian Sella is equal parts funny, sad, goofy, adorable, but mostly relatable throughout with his lyrics that give the listener access to his life like a personal diary. “Peach” is one of the album’s gems; a quiet, cute love song that hits emotional highs with simple lines like “you are the reason I am smiling/ when there is nothing to smile about.” Even on the corniest lines, like “You were my girl, you were my baby/ you were my homemade mashed potatoes biscuits and gravy” off the track “The Feud,” Brian’s sincerity sells the words and makes them resonate.
Despite the playful nature of the band, there is still the need to grow up as Brian address on “Funny You Should Ask” when he says “When I was younger I thought I didn’t have to care about anyone/ but I’m older know and know that I should.” He looks ahead to an uncertain future on the album’s stellar closing track “Everything I Own”, wondering “who’s gonna push my wheelchair around when I get sick/ god forbid I ever stop feeling sorry for myself for being selfish. This is not the way I plan on living for the rest of my life/ but for right now it gets me by.” Brian makes it clear that he’s happy where he is and that’s what he needs.
The new album works because it’s so true to the sound that won them such a cult following. It’s catchy, fun, and enjoyable yet still refreshing and new. There are not a lot of bands that can go out there with an acoustic guitar and a drum set and command the sort of devotion and attention this band does. This is not the album that’s going to gain the band any new fans, so for people who weren’t fond of their earlier work, this probably won’t win them over, and if this album is any indication, The Front Bottoms are just fine with that. It’s gotten them this far, and they’re only soaring higher.
Songs of Interest: Skeleton, Twin Sized Mattress, Santa Monica, Back Flip