By Ryan Martin (@RyanMartin182)
The Front Bottoms have been one of the biggest stars of the underground indie community of this decade. Originating as a duo of simple acoustic power chords, provocative lyrics, and catchy melodies, TFB have managed to retain their dedicated fan base since the release of their self-titled 6 years ago. Surely, fans must expect the raw, emotional, amateur sound of the early releases to evolve and mature over time. This was hinted at with 2015’s Back On Top, which incorporated a fuller and more mainstream sound to what fans were used to expecting from the New Jersey duo. TFB’s latest, Going Grey, takes a strong lead into the direction Back On Top foreshadowed. With heavy synths, trap hi-hats, and minor use of the acoustic guitar, it’s leaving day one fans scratching their heads.
Now backed by a major-label home to acts like Twenty One Pilots, Paramore, and All Time Low (who are also all acts that have changed their sound to suit a more mainstream audience), The Front Bottoms have made the full transition into an indie-pop rock act. Songs like Grand Finale and Trampoline are nauseating examples of the new sound TFB have acquired. Being a fan of TFB for quite some time now, the idea of a new sound doesn’t upset me. As much as I would have loved another song like The Beers on Going Grey, the members are all growing older and wiser and trying to mature the sound of their band. The material of Going Grey is a full departure from their earlier work and a very clear attempt to market themselves as a popular mainstream act. Making the record feel cheap, unclean and almost painful to get through.
With multiple listens, songs from Going Grey only unravel their flaws overtime rather than bloom into songs with a lasting impact. Front man Brian Sella’s vocals on the opening track, You Used to Say (Holy Fuck) sound less like the raw passionate ones heard on earlier records and instead sounds out of place behind an overproduced and forgettable instrumental. Songs like Peace Sign and Vacation Town use poppy piano and horn riffs to latch their way into your brain and have dull choruses. Lyrically, Brian Sella steps back immensely. Earlier lyrics from the band left lyrics that felt honest and like they meant something to both the listener and the writer. Lyrics from Going Grey either sound like a cheap attempt to cater to tweens or come off as clunky. Don’t Fill Up On Chips has existed as a demo Sella had been workshopping for months and made its way onto YouTube as an acoustic song called Tommy. The final product is one of the clumsiest songs not even on the record but of this year. The chorus is stale and the lyrics from the verses are too corny to be taken seriously with lines like
“Tommy I love you
Are you impressed
With what I profess?”
Highlights include Raining and Vacation Town, which are built off of strong instrumentals and decent hooks. While maintaining the same sound as the rest of the record, there’s an amount of charm that shines through with these two tracks that stands above the others. They’re by no means fantastic tracks but in the context of Going Grey, they’re fun track to nod your head to. An interesting aspect of Going Grey is the decrease in quality behind the choruses. Tracks like Far Drive, which sounds like a rip-off of a Walk The Moon song, have such poorly written choruses that it could have been done by a poetic middle-schooler.
Totally worth it
Just to see you
In the car with
People you love is
Always a good time”
Going Grey plays front to back much less like an album but more as a collection of songs. There are too many skippable songs for an 11-track record and not enough heartfelt moments for it to even feel like a Front Bottoms record. The only consistent element throughout TFB’s discography is the vocal range that Sella has kept throughout the years. It’s the only thing that still feels in place about the band but also sounds so out of place when backed by a sound that sounds desperate for radio play. Going Grey may have added more elements, instruments, and layers to TFB’s early minimalistic approach, but the result sounds less like an evolved, matured version of the band than a sell-out, cheapened version.