Favorite Track: "the truth" Least Favorite Track: "bus beat"
Over a decade ago, a baby faced college sophomore from New Jersey named Brian Sella and his best friend Mathew Uychich, started a band that’s name meant “vagina”. This non-discrete euphemism is a testament to what The Front Bottoms were once all about but sadly are no longer: fun. Another metaphor for the direction this band has moved in since their 2011 debut can be clearly viewed in the styles of their album covers. Their 2011 self-titled debut proudly sports a childish and youthful watercolor painting of Sella as it’s album art, but for some reason unmentioned, his skin is purple like a blueberry, a stark contrast to the cover of their newest outing: 2020’s In Sickness & In Flames. As vanilla as it sounds their newest vinyl sleeve oddly resembles a Photoshop template. A simple image of some guitars in a dark room, (that might as well be a stock photo), is placed aside the album's proud title. Now lets contrast this with the text from the album cover for 2015’s Back On Top. It’s not even hidden; the text is straight up and proudly written backwards. The direction that The Front Bottoms discography is going in is a crystal clear story of the negative side effects of growing up.
On In Sickness & In Flames, The Front Bottoms trade their once strange and edgy lyricism and song structures for a more commercial sound, something very similar to what they did on their last LP in 2017: Going Grey. At least on that project they experiment with synths and mask the whole ordeal as an artistic evolution of sorts, on In Sickness & In Flames their attempt at the radio is much easier to see. Commercialism isn’t inherently bad, in fact I could cite many cases where I prefer a specific act when they implement wider appealing musicianship into newer work, The Front Bottoms however, are not one of those acts.
The raw, cartoonish, and under produced style that provided The Front Bottoms with their trustability, relatability, and genuineness is noticeably vacant from In Sickness & In Flames. They once felt so authentic and real; less like a band and more like two stoners from your high school that insisted you come and cover their favorite songs by The Strokes with them. Nowadays they sound like a major label project, which I believe acts in their detriment.
Originally, I struggled to formulate coherent thoughts about this album. This didn’t alarm me - any Front Bottoms fan will tell you that they have no idea why they like this duo as much as they do, myself included. I now realize this album perplexed me because it isn’t something I'm used to hearing from Sella nor Uychich. The album kicks off strong with its two promotional singles: “Camouflage” and “Everyone Blooms”. Both take a more punk stance on the bands usual folk-punk style yet maintain an attitude very reminiscent of the groups older catalog. A few tracks later we hear “the truth”, which is probably the closest we get to the older Front Bottoms charm on the entire album. The soft acoustics and half abstract/half intangible lyrics are part of what make this track so oddly likable. Throw in the track's perfectly catchy hook and you have yourself a classic Front Bottoms tune. Unfortunately, the false sense of security exposes itself after this point.
“montgomery forever” is a pop-punk tune that sounds like it could have easily been written by any other band on Fueled by Ramen’s roster. Sella’s lyricism here is mostly dry, and contains this very hometown hero-type energy that seems more suitable for an All Time Low song, or a coming of age movie’s fight scene. This track acts as the exact opposite of everything that made me once love The Front Bottoms. This trend continues for essentially the rest of the track list. “leaf pile” features a very jaded take on insecurities, and other beaten topics, that seem so far outside of Sella's traditional lyrical wheelhouse that it’s almost unimaginable that he really wrote these. The next two tracks are similarly predictable.
In Sickness & In Flames is top heavy. Its best moments appear early in the track list, almost as if they’re trying to hide the fact the band writing them is running out of ideas. Once you enter the meat of the record don’t expect any surprises; the same overly produced pop-punk clouds the rest of the album. In 2015, Sella penned “My body is a temple, how much do you think I could get for it?”, right after proclaiming that you should “never underestimate cold, hungry, and desperate”. In 2020 he pens “Ah, you broke my heart, gettin' your car. Was thinkin' maybe you would ride with me. 'Cause we're both going to the same place Just at very different speeds”. This is not the same Brian Sella. In conclusion, I’ll leave you with a quote from my review of the band’s last LP in 2017, where they similarly lost their edge. (Edited for the occasion) “In Sickness & In Flames isn’t nearly as interesting as the strange and quirky mix of folk, emo, and rock that put this outfit on the map, and quite honestly I would rather just listen to Back On Top.”