Album Review: The Front Bottoms – “Talon of the Hawk”

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With a voice that sounds like a cross between Blink-182’s Tom Delonge, The Weakerthans’ John K. Samson and maybe a shot of Death Cab For Cutie’s Ben Gibbard’s silky soft sincerity (particularly when singing of ‘space age crystals’ as in ‘I Swear To God The Devil Made Me Do It’) Brian Sella offers a compelling sarcasm tinged warble as he guides us through ‘Talon of the Hawk.’

Coming out on the heels of their very well received self titled debut (two years is considered the heels in the music business), New Jersey’s sons of indie folk punkery The Front Bottoms keep everything that was initially attractive about their eponymous introduction but expand the canvas by adding extra colors and wider brush strokes making for a more confident sounding follow up that’s sure to tug at your more well guarded emotions while your heel is punching out messages in Morse code on the floor beneath you.

Because we didn’t get around to reviewing the band’s first release and because it is an album well worth reading about, I’m going to do you a solid and weave in a bit of a review of that album throughout the review of this one. A twofer, if you will.

Ok so, ‘Talon of the Hawk’ starts off with Brian’s voice following a single string of his guitar around the fret board and filling the breathing room with nonsensical lyrics showing an appreciation for the finer points of the oral sendoff. A few bars in the song slams into a hearty bit o’ rockin’ and rollin’ before dismantling back into the simplicity of the intro but keeping the accordion on hand to add its two cents in the back, sounding like a seagull trying to sing Pavarotti after eating a breadcrumb with a toothpick hidden in it. It has a very The Presidents of the United States of America ‘Ladies and Gentlemen Part 1’ to it.

And a very similar musical makeup to the kick off track from The Front Bottoms’ 2011 record. But while this track (‘Au Revoir (Adios)’) is a silly minute and half which eases the listener into the more involving boot stomper ‘Skeleton,’ the 2011 track (‘Flashlight’) is a full five minutes of lovelorn storytelling filtered through layered vocals and beat up acoustic guitars to signal the arrival of something special.

‘Twin Size Mattresses’ is the first track off of ‘Talon’ to get the VIP treatment, receiving a consideration and hearty thumbs up from American Songwriter and an accompanying video to boot.

Lyrically it contains the same funny-serious dichotomy of situations which define the steps taken from the general hell that is adolescence to the slightly less hellish years that are early adulthood, when you realize you have to keep your crappy job to pay for stuff you need if you want to survive and that maybe being a teenager wasn’t all that bad after all.

Musically it blankets the ears with steady rhythms and an impressive array of guitars, each with a different job that add to the melodic wall of sounds that fit like knuckles kissing when fists are pressed together. The snippets of gang vocal work all but guarantee that ‘Twin Size Mattresses’ will be met with a hearty reception at live shows and backyard barbeques.

Elsewhere, the songs ‘Peach’ and ‘Backflip’ buoy their soft hooks with xylophone sounding melodic accents which go a long way to giving credence to their ruminations of life and love. Not at all unlike the horns that help keep the pace in the bouncy acoustic numbers ‘Mountain’ and ‘Rhode Island’ from the self titled record.

The ‘love sucks’ message in the pair of tattoo songs from both releases (‘Tattooed Tears’ on this one, ‘Legit Tattoo Gun’ on that one) fits the bluesy slow downbeat picking of the guitar in ‘Legit Tattoo’ and the more angry, hard charging acceptance of ‘Tears.’

Pulling the curtain down on ‘Talon’ is the song ‘Everything I Own’ which uses harmonizing ‘Ooo-Ooo’s’ to anchor the song’s upbeat optimism while the now familiar musical bedfellow attack of horns and keyboards reinforce the sincerity of the sentiments. All in all it’s an appropriate message, appropriately sounding like the culmination of all that came before it, including the twelve songs found on the debut. Those twelve songs roads which all lead to album capper ‘Hooped Earrings.’ ‘Hooped Earrings’ doesn’t leave the listener with the same sense of satisfaction as does ‘Everything I Own’ but it sounds at home with the rest of the record, even the weird, science fiction sounding keyboards climbing and crashing along with Mathew Uychich’s beat-laying.

The Front Bottoms are hard to classify and as such sticking them with a label is little more than an ultimately pointless guessing game. But if you were to take a fingernail to this scratch and sniff, you might catch a whiff of some Weakerthans, some Frank Turner, a little Riot Before, even a touch of Gaslight Anthem. But those similarities are often fleeting and the best way to get a feel for this band is to feel them up yourselves. They won’t mind.

Talon of the Hawk: 4.5/5

Self titled: 4/5


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