Going into their first label-produced album, Jersey natives The Front Bottoms sat comfortably in the naïve space of indefinable indie-rock. Their most accomplished work before being signed by Bar/None records, the self-released and tremendously titled My Grandma vs. Pneumonia, was an early draft of a Tarantino movie, tearing through genres carelessly from song to song, hoping it became coherent in the end. It’s actually not a bad album, and there are some great songs on it (particularly the opener “Flying Model Rockets), but it does have tremendous room for growth.
Two albums later, The Front Bottoms, a band named after the British slang term for a female sexual organ, are still growing but are exhibiting very little pains with the process. Talon of the Hawk, the bands’ most recent record, sharpens their sense of self, deciding to be a little more definable by committing fully to the indie-punk-folk sound they’d experimented with at times on their self-titled label debut. It takes some of the schizophrenic changes of pace out of the equation, leaving the vertigo-inducing songs like “Father” or “The Beers” that made their last record incessantly dynamic behind in an attempt to build coherency.
Even with this commitment to logically moving songs, The Front Bottoms have held off on diluting their stimulating and endlessly entertaining lyricist Brian Sella. As with everything that’s come before, Sella is the main attraction on Talon of the Hawk. If The Front Bottoms was organized as a jet-stream of consciousness for the snarky frontman to let loose over, then Talon is a series of long-ish drunk texts that you get the feeling Sella might regret sending in a year or two. As a lyricist, he has the same punk-rock honesty complex as Titus Andronicus’s Patrick Stickles, but there’s more hope and tenderness here than on any of Stickles’s gnarly opuses. These are love songs, not songs about love, and Sella is cool with that label, even trying to reclaim it for the awkward, vaguely creepy kid sitting alone at a party.
And it’s all so personal that these songs can actually do some damage. On “Swear to God the Devil Made Me Do It”, as Sella tries to implode a masculinity complex through literal complications (“I know CPR/I know mouth to mouth… Baby I can spit this game all day) and dreams of creating life-changing art, he goes back on his own progress, mourning, “But I am full of shit/I’m a plagiarist/As a liar, I’m a 10”. It all feels in the moment, and you can actually follow his thought patterns here. He sells the performance in a way that few other singers can. This could be a Fiona Apple record.
Then there’s “Twin Sized Mattress”, the one truly transcendent song on this album, a tour-de-force of the formidable songwriter Brian Sella can be. When he sings, “When the floodwater comes it ain’t gonna be clear/It’s gonna look like mud/But I will help you swim/I will help you swim/I’m gonna help you swim”, there’s no mistaking the earnest heart this dude has. This is what is so magnetizing about The Front Bottoms: their ability to distill emotional moments that are usually lost to abstraction in a lesser band’s hands. With all that being said, there also hasn’t been a more beautiful song put to record this year.