Frustration. Poverty. Joblessness. Uncertainty. The Front Bottoms sing of all these things and more, echoing the angst of almost any post-high school 20-something in America. Based in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, the group offers a shred of hope in a vast sea of corporate greed, undervalued art and existential crises.
I first heard of The Front Bottoms through a close friend who recommended their music as something I’d probably like. I put off listening to the band, but after repeatedly seeing their name on blogs, and after reading that they were a contender for New Paltz’s 2016 Spring Fest, I decided it was time to give the hyped-up group a listen.
“Twin Size Mattress,” the group’s highest-ranked track on Spotify, was my first Front Bottoms foray. Hailing from the band’s 2013 album “Talon Of The Hawk,” the track reminds me of a fusion between early music from Paramore and Blink-182. Like much of The Front Bottoms’ music, “Twin Size Mattress” walks the line between pop-punk, alternative rock and indie. The song is easily their best work, with raw, poignant lyrics and simple instrumentals. It rings true for the average millennial, almost painfully so. The lyrics of the bridge say enough in their own right: “She hopes I’m cursed forever to / sleep on a twin-sized mattress / in somebody’s attic or basement my whole life / never graduating up in size to add another / and my nightmares will have nightmares every night…”
A generational American anthem like that is quite hard to top. As I made my way through their discography, I noticed a theme I’ve witnessed before in other indie/pop-punk bands I’ve liked over the years. Their most recent studio album, “Back On Top,” sounds more pop-punk than indie, and not very alt-rock at all. It could be a coincidence, but the group signed onto the record label Fueled By Ramen in 2015, the very same label that adopted bands like Paramore and twenty one pilots in their infancy — and proceeded to “sugarcoat” their sound, ostensibly for greater radio play-ability. It’s no secret that heavily pop-influenced music sells well. Popular bands like Fall Out Boy and Panic! At The Disco are examples of how taking emo / indie-inspired pop-punk music in a decidedly more pop-punk direction makes it more marketable and palatable to general audiences.
Of course, greater sales and increased radio play mean more popularity, more profit and new opportunities for bands like Paramore, twenty one pilots or The Front Bottoms—something no fan in their right mind could protest. For many bands, though, the turn away from a harder and more authentic, raw sound means a loss of emotionality. Unfortunately, I found this to be the case with many tracks on “Back On Top.” Songs like “Cough It Out” and “Summer Shandy” do nothing for me, especially when contrasted with evocative tracks like “Twin Size Mattress” or “Flashlight.”
Despite the shift in sound, I did find a few standout tracks on The Front Bottoms’ latest release. Even with its pop-skewed sound, “HELP” manages to convey the same sense of desperation and 20-something turmoil I heard and enjoyed in “Twin Size Mattress.” “Ginger” and “The Plan (F*ck Jobs)” offer that same degree of relatability wrapped up in fun guitar riffs and snappy lyrics. Not all was lost in the band’s transition to a major record label, and I’m glad to catch glimpses of the raw, relatable lyrics I fell for.