For those who haven’t heard it yet, here is a look at The Front Bottoms’ latest LP, “Going Grey,” on the eve of their annual Champagne Jam, which this year brings the indie-rock outfit home to Asbury Park on Dec. 16 at Convention Hall.
I’ve been writing about music for 37 years. In all that time, I have not heard lyrics stronger than on The Front Bottoms’ latest LP, “Going Grey.” The 11-song collection is their second album for Fueled by Ramen and sixth since 2008 that they either released themselves or on the longtime Hoboken-based indie, Bar/None.
A cross between the simple, geeky charm of They Might Be Giants and the silly satire, irresistible irreverence and intricate, sharp rhythms of Ween, The Front Bottoms’ deceptively deep meaning also offers a strong pathos that turns everyday emotions into a fascinating treatise, and the absurdities of life into relatable fun.
Most of this comes from vocalist-guitarist Brian Sella’s stunning lyrics, because other than Mathew Uychich’s stylistic drums and some strong but uncredited backing vocals and atmospheric effects (such as the sea soundscapes that open and close the album), there’s not much to The Front Bottoms’ music than to be a vehicle of wordplay. There are so many great examples of that throughout “Going Grey.”
I especially love the line in “Vacation Town”: “I miss walking naked through the backyard to get to the outdoor shower.”
Then there’s the opening line of “Peace Sign”: “You remind me of a song. Got it on an old cassette. Sounded like an angel singing about a pain in her chest.”
And on “Trampoline,” a great song about childhood friends whose young love is growing apart, Sella laments, “Sometimes when we’re together, we’re not together, and sometimes I try to fake it, but you know me better.”
Opening and closing with aforementioned beach sounds is a nice touch, especially when that tranquility is juxtaposed with the fear of death expressed in both songs. “You Used to Say (Holy Fuck)” has a fun but foreboding refrain that translates well live, especially when the crowd sings along, while the closing “Ocean” worries about the waves, which seems to be a metaphor for a greater fear about the direction of society.
Just about every song has a stunning lyric that will make you laugh, think or both.
I get a sense that The Front Bottoms’ lyricism has influenced emerging bands such as Hodera and Yawn Mower, which is a beautiful thing. They also are influential with their annual Champagne Jam, which will take place Dec. 16 at Asbury’s Convention Hall. The indie rock festival also will include AJJ, The Districts, White Reaper, Delicate Steve, American Trappist, Slaughter Beach, Dog, Big Easy, Weakened Friends and Strange Eclipse. Visit thefrontbottoms.com/tour.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.
I like these songs a lot more now that I’ve seen the band perform them live, so I am going to go back and give Going Grey another listen. My first reaction wasn’t as positive as yours. First, I thought Brian was treading water a bit with some of the lyrics. Secondly I didn’t like all of the radio-friendly production that the label obviously foisted on the band. The Front Bottoms aren’t supposed to sound like Weezer. It’s funny, when the Front Bottoms started out, their audience was their age. Now Brian and Matt are pushing 30 but a large part of their audience are teenagers. Do you write for them, or for your own current state of mind? That’s a conundrum that’s obsessed a lot of rock lyricists for a very long time.