Whilst the group’s singing to Fuelled By Ramen (their first major label signing) in 2015 was undoubtedly a massive achievement for The Front Bottoms, many were concerned that such a signing to a powerful label would spell the end to their unmistakable and charming rough sound and DIY aesthetics. Whilst their 2015 album Back On Top did see a slight corrosion to such aforementioned aesthetics, it was still a record that fully presented their delightfully awkward and scattered persona. With this in consideration, the follow up to their major label debut, one that has gained a slight reputation for forcing vice grips on band’s sounds - this year’s Going Grey was always going to be an interesting affair. Would they continue to conform to a conventional sound, or will they forcibly return to their DIY and homegrown attitudes? Well, they’ve done a bit of both on this record.
From the get go, Going Grey contains a far more mature, focused and concise sound and structure that mostly presents the group’s synonymous youthful and anxious sensitivity. Yet, such vibes have taken the backseat on this record, where in the past such aesthetics were prominent and highly important elements in previous records. These elements are still present within this record, but there seems to be an atmosphere of such conventions being consciously forced into the fray rather than them developing and expanding naturally and not as prominent or amplified as in previous releases.
Tracks such as ‘Raining’ and ‘Peace Sign’ see a more confident and poppy approach to their typical song writing with an overpowering sense of conformity to typical indie conventions with such blundering persona’s tacked on for effect. It’s an awkward and wary sound that’s certainly not a pleasant one that the group has revelled in for many years. Whilst it would be wrong to place the blame on third parties, it does appear to be the tell-tale signs of a label kneecapping a band’s homegrown persona in order to create a sound that appeals to a far larger demographic.
Whilst the general associated vibes of the band’s roots have been toned down a notch, when the group decide to reign it in and showcase their present jangly and discordant vibes and atmosphere it’s fantastic and feels natural. Whilst the general tone on this record may be one of maturation and personal growth, especially in comparison to their previous and early releases, some of the tracks on this record perfectly demonstrates and resonates the group’s persona of the past. ‘Bae’ contains a disjointed and raucous guitar melody that could have fit in perfectly within Talon Of The Hawk, ‘Far Drive’ contains an anxious and introspective ambience and ‘Grand Finale’ contains all the rough and withdrawn atmosphere of the band’s past.
Yes, the charmingly rough production values of yesteryear have all but been eroded, but the song writing and associated structures within tracks like these is as still as fresh, youthful and genuinely skilfully constructed as songs found within the band’s past discography. It feels like the unique vocal talents of Brian Sella are partly responsible for such authentic vibes and tones. Parts of the record may feel sandblasted in order to conform to general mainstream conventions, Sella’s unique approach to storytelling appears to have escaped the chopping block of their major label. Bristling with odd humour and irrelevant proverbs, it’s extremely pleasing to hear Sella’s weird and wonderful vocals in their full strength.
In relation, whilst The Front Bottoms have always had a knack with experimenting with sounds, instruments, and genres not typically associated with the alternative style, there seems to be a direct and attentive focus on creative exploration and bringing new unprecedented percussion into the mix. Whilst there may be concern that such sonic expeditions may be forced, such experimentation feels pleasantly and wholeheartedly natural and parallel to the classic associated and aforementioned persona of the act. From the subtle accordion and beach vibes of ‘Don’t Fill Up On Chips’, to the curious trap orientated beat of ‘Vacation Town’ to the sugary sweet synths of ‘Trampoline’, there’s certainly a lot of differing tones and experimentation to behold, a fact that lends itself to the charming and scattered characteristics of this group.
Whilst some of the bands more long term devotees may be frustrated from the group’s continued departure from their messy and fretfully angsty roots, Going Grey is an album that mostly feels like a humble and inevitable transition from the scattered anxieties of youth to maturity, at the expense of some the band’s persona and typical sound. Yes, it will most likely be more appreciable and approachable to younger fans of the wider scene, but at the same time, may frustrate some. Never the less, when seeing the progression from Back On Top, to this album, it’s going to be curious how the group adapt their now witheringly unique sound in the future.