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Front Bottoms’ Triumphant Transition

Tom Bergan, Staff Writer

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There comes a time in any indie band’s career that they have to make a choice. Will they remain successful within
their genre or will they take a leap to the masses by adjusting their sound to appeal to more listeners? Often billed as a “progression” of sound as opposed to a shot at hitting it big, many bands—at the very least—attempt this endeavor. The linewalked while attempting this feat is a flimsy one though, filled with many traps. Sounding too formulaic, alienating an existing fan base and getting lost in the world between pop and indie are all pitfalls that artists fall into all too often. Look no further than Imagine Dragons or Bastille to find prime examples of bands that abandoned the sound of their initial success for the pursuit of a Top 40 hit. While some of these artists, like Dragons, struck gold with these attempts, many more burnt brightly before burning into irrelevancy, leaving the music world as quickly as they arrived.

The Front Bottoms have taken on this challenge with their latest release, “Going Grey,” which was released this past week.

Unlike the hordes that attempt this crossover, the band has successfully taken a step toward taking over the music world. Will this album alonelead to sold-out arenas across the country? Probably not. It will, however, engross a whole slew of new fans who had previously never heard of the duo.

The band has always masterfully paired Brian Sella’s yawp with his stream-of-consciousness lyrics to create a sound that is entirely their own. On “Grey,” The Front Bottoms have taken these qualities and refined them in a way that was not previously present in their first three albums. Where an off-key note or voice crack would have been kept in the fray on their self-titled debut album from 2011, the same quirks were largely axed throughout “Grey.”

At times, this fine-tuned production seems to smooth the edge that otherwise may exist, but it largely feels as if this transformation is entirely natural. On album-opener “You Used to Say,” the sound grows from faint seagulls chirping to Sella yelling “I’m about to die” in the chorus as if his life was on the line. The track immediately establishes “Grey” as an album that molds older elements of their music while also charting a new, more ambitious course for the band.

The album ventures into “Peace Sign” and “Bae,” two tracks that have a lyrical delivery that is slower than the biting tempo of past songs such as “Maps” or “Flashlight.” Somehow, however, this does not dampen the excitement that has become synonymous with The Front Bottom’s sound. It is as if by slowing down the words per minute sung by Sella, the band allows more space for the music to breathe and echo. No longer is it a struggle to keep up with Sella’s stories as it is in the relentless “Skeleton” from “Talon of the Hawk.” It is easier to appreciate and notice all of the new elements of The Front Bottom’s sound that are fresh for both the band and the listener.

One of the album’s highlights is the one-two punch of “Vacation Town” and “Don’t Fill Up On Chips.” Both tracks are sure to be hailed as standouts of the album when the pomp and circumstance of its release dies down. “Vacation Town” is a maturation of relationships from the band, now wanting “to be / That comfortable place where you write and read / Watch TV / Or deeply breathe.” Using an “offseason vacation town” as the means to discuss this relationship, it features some of the most inventive lyrics and themes of the album. Similarly, “Chips” also dives into a relationship, one in which the prime has passed and blame is being divided amongst one another. It allows Sella’s perfectly imperfect voice to take center stage, simultaneously making the listener want to introspectively analyze their relationships while somehow also just wanting to dance.

Not every track is as perfectly crafted as these songs, however. The band swings and misses with “Trampoline,” which has perfectly adequate verses that cannot make up for the pan-flute key line that should have been left in the 1980s, the half-hearted hand claps, and the terribly blasé chorus that includes “You and me / Backyard to backyard / Trampoline / To trampoline.”

Similarly, “Grand Finale” and “Everyone But You” are tracks that may just be the tracks to blow The Front Bottoms into a new level of success, but lack some of the charm that is often present in this album and the entirety of their discography. They seem to be phoned in, using techniques and sounds of artists that have already hit mainstream success.

By becoming more accessible with “Grey,” the band very well
might become the next crossover darlings, finding even more fans in the indie world, while also tapping into mainstream alternative.

If you talk to any fan of the band, they will happily give up some edge and grit for the band to grow in popularity, because one would be hard pressed to find a more deserving band. The Front Bottoms have relentlessly given their hearts to their music, fans and shows since 2010, and the idea of this being their moment is an exhilarating one. They have been ready to seize it for years.

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Front Bottoms’ Triumphant Transition