Originality is dead. Or at least that’s what a lot of music fans have chosen to believe nowadays. Looking at the number of revived genres and copycat bands in the last five years or so, it’s easy to see why some people might be so quick to jump to this conclusion. But look deeper at the bands reviving the genres and inspiring those copycats, and there is far more creativity and originality present than any naysayer would expect. Look at The Front Bottoms, who are heading up a new wave of emo bands with the emotional, country-tinged indie rock that’s already earned them a loyal following. And when a band’s guitarist is also their resident keyboardist-slash-trumpeteer, you know they’re not just any run-of-the-mill outfit.
New album Back On Top certainly won’t disappoint if you’re after more of the same. But there’s a bit of an unexpected false start, as the opening couple of tracks are easily the album’s weakest. Motorcycle is fronted by the offputtingly abrasive side of frontman Brian Sella’s voice, and the accompaniment of childish sounding keyboards and lead guitar parts that go off on a tangent more often than not make the whole track sound far too amateur-like for a band on their third album. Summer Shandy afterwards plods along slightly, but soon develops into a song with the quality the rest of Back On Top thankfully possesses. The vocals are more melodic throughout the other nine songs, most noticeably so in the wonderful Cough It Out, and it shines in Laugh Till I Cry, when its full range is displayed.
But the best thing about Back On Top is that it’s not quite perfect. There are plenty of clumsy metaphors (keeping spiders you kill in your pocket to describe mental illness), simple, cringeworthy lyrics (2YL will make you squirm with its embarrassingly blunt approach to sex) and off-key notes in guitar solos and riffs. While these would be instant irritants in regards to any other band, The Front Bottoms somehow make each an essential feature of their own endearingly awkward vibe. The frequent use of gang vocals and hand claps is instantly loveable, while The Plan (Fuck Jobs) is definitely one to make you laugh, as well as having an adorably infectious keyboard hook that will be stuck in your head for weeks.
To be completely honest, the unique quirks The Front Bottoms possess are not ones that will charm everyone. It’s all too easy to dismiss the off-key twangs and songs about “getting high and hanging out” as amateur and childish. But one thing it’s hard to dismiss is the flair, as awkward as it may be, with which Brian Sella delivers his lyrics, be it the fast-paced melodies on HELP or the ringleader style showcased on Plastic Flowers. And it’s that last track where it all finally clicks – The Front Bottoms are the somewhat unconventional voices of not just a new scene, but a new generation of music fans. And judging by this album, it won’t be long until they have their own following of copycat bands.
For fans of: Modern Baseball, Joyce Manor, Dads
Words by Georgia Jackson
‘Back On Top’ by The Front Bottoms is out now on Fueled By Ramen.