Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Front Bottoms

  • The Front Bottoms [Bar/None, 2011] A-
  • Talon of the Hawk [Bar/None, 2013] A-
  • Back on Top [Fueled by Ramen, 2015] B+
  • Going Grey [Fueled by Ramen, 2017] ***
  • In Sickness and in Flames [Fueled by Ramen, 2020] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Front Bottoms [Bar/None, 2011]
Comprising New Jersey vocalist-guitarist Brian Sella and drummer Mat Uychich and then picking up help here and there, self-branded folk-punk even if I still call it indie-rock, the Front Bottoms remained stalwartly productive for over a decade after self-releasing albums (plus several of the many EPs I haven't heard) in 2008 and 2009. So for this pass, at least, I'll stick to their five label-supported long-players, perhaps the most self-aware and fundamentally likable oeuvre in a vanishing musical subculture of white male post-collegiate slackers making a self-employed lifestyle out of recreational consciousness adjusters and romantic musical chairs. Were those really just fireworks Sella bought in Pennsylvania? Is it literally true that he spent a summer on steroids because the girl he was crushing on liked muscles? Does he actually want to reread American Psycho, poor guy? Did his father knock him around so bad he dreams about hitting him with a baseball bat? Although in 2012 I semi-dismissed them as a "two-'man' Bergen County Nerd Liberation Front cell," they've grown in my mind as they've grown older and kept at it. So yes to all the above questions is my takeaway. Tell me more. A-

Talon of the Hawk [Bar/None, 2013]
Why hasn't somebody famous covered the lead "Au Revoir (Adios)," the kind of sure shot with a punch line that can inspire college graduates to spend their early twenties on the road because it beats the day jobs they don't have anyway. Nor are the tale of Brian Sella's space-age crystals versus his mother's lottery habit or the one that keeps repeating "I got so stoned I fell asleep in the front seat" or definitely the one that goes "I wanna be stronger than your dad was for your mom" low-fat cottage cheese. Deep, not especially. But far from dumb, meaning deep enough. Tuneful enough too. A-

Back on Top [Fueled by Ramen, 2015]
On an album unified by the megatheme we'll-break-up-we'll-break-up-not, be grateful the music keeps improving as Brian Sella applies his pitch-poor voice to marginally catchier variations on the theme. A propitious omen is that the one that repeats "You can tie me up but don't tie me down" is called "Ginger" in honor of the dog he rescued--an omen that "2YL" soon putsmore flesh on. Only then the chorus switches into "Love of my life, gone forever." And in the closer someone dies, although not Sella. B+

Going Grey [Fueled by Ramen, 2017]
Romance remains hard, but give them credit for trying to not just work on it but explain it ("Bae," "Vacation Town," "Ocean") ***

In Sickness and in Flames [Fueled by Ramen, 2020]
After a decade-plus of predicating his art on a changeable love life, now thirtysomething Brian Sella endures more romantic angst, thinks about it, and grows up, germinating a complex, changeable, catchy succession of songs that create the probably not altogether factual impression that his entire adult life has been one up-and-down hookup. "Everyone blooms in their own time," the opener begins. But in "Montgomery Forever," the permanence of this union is challenged by the demolition of the Jersey City housing project where they once resided--and also, well, that other guy she met. Yet soon enough "The Truth" ignites the invaluable axiom "You are the truth I choose to bend myself around." In other words: "I do it like that because that's the way my baby likes it," singing lessons included. So as the finale swears: "We're both going to the same place/Just at very different speeds." A