Whether they’re just strutting their stuff or referencing a sexual position, the Front Bottoms have delivered a powerful new album with Back On Top. Their first for Fueled By Ramen is both full of departures and a continuation of the work they’ve been building on for years. Brian Sella (vocals, guitar) and Mat Uychich (drums) have put together a vibrant array of killer new songs with their band mates Tom “Two Slaps” Warren (bass) and Ciaran “C-Dog” O’Donnell (guitar, horns, keyboards). The growth and confidence shows in the work of this unit of four. While there is plenty that is familiar from Mat’s powerhouse drumming to Brian’s acoustic guitar and a healthy dose of horns, there is also plenty that is new, including bigger rock sounds (“Motorcycle,” “West Virginia,” “The Plan (Fuck Jobs)”) and surprisingly melodic vocal parts. (“Cough It Out,” “HELP”). There’s even a guest turn from Jersey rapper GDP who takes their darker side to even darker places in the “Historic Cemetery.” Songs flow seamlessly into each other and the album just gets stronger as it moves along.
Under the production ears of Joe Chiccarelli (Beck, The Strokes, Morrissey, White Stripes) the mixes are especially detailed; perfect for cheap earbuds or high end stereo equipment. The band worked with Joe for weeks on pre-production, getting parts to lock in with each other. Mat said he enjoyed the wide range of drums and percussion options he was able to use at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles while Brian admitted being pushed into some new creative places.
The album kicks off with “Motorcycle” and introduces some key lyrical themes – hitting the open road and self reflection. Are they looking inward while still embracing forward motion? Does the party continue while one uneasily checks the rearview mirror? Or as Brian puts it, “Sometimes you got to close your eyes to truly see the light.” In “Summer Shandy” Brian appears to embrace his public image while trying to dismantle it. The song features a slinky bottom heavy groove as he bemoans his “badboy blues” secretly doing pushups when he thinks no one is watching. “I was pretty pleased with the person I was pretending to be,” says it all.
Sella’s remarkable ability to mix a variety of emotions within any given set of lyrics is on display for Back On Top as he lets the doggerel out the backdoor to romp with the sacred, profane and funny. The afore mentioned “Cough it Out” has Brian singing an intricately layered chorus using a new melancholic vocal style that includes one of his most heart tugging lines, “I’ll defend you if I can/But whatever I did for you last year I cannot do again.” The song has a great DIY video to go with it made by Mat and Brian using GoPro cameras, bicycles and a turtle. The outskirts of Jersey City, NJ never looked so good as Mat tests the waters for a very unique bike ride.
The Front Bottoms started making a name for themselves after the crash of ‘08 when American youth found themselves saddled with college loans, unemployment, part-time minimum wage service jobs and the prospect of living at home or in shady situations on twin size mattresses. TFB hit a nerve with their first two albums on the Bar/None label–the self-titled debut combined two EPs: Slow Dance To Soft Rock and Grip and Tie (2011). They followed it with Talon Of the Hawk (2013) recorded in Austin TX by Chris “Frenchie” Smith. (Interesting side note: both producers chose an Elektro-Voice 666 microphone for Brian’s vocals, independent of each other.)
Mat and Brian started making homemade recordings as teenagers later re-working the best of that material on the Grandma Rose EP (2014). They played all sorts of VFW halls and punk houses to get their chops together evolving into a heavy touring outfit that solidified a viral-fueled fan base as they opened for everyone from Tenacious D to Weezer. NPR embraced them along with college radio and press outlets as varied as Alternative Press and Huffington Post. The band now has a loyal following all over the USA, across Europe, even down under in Australia. They’ve started the TFB Motorcycle Club to announce special secret shows, exclusive merch and club meet ups. It’s a no brainer – would you rather be in a fan club or a biker gang? Imagine the possibilities for lyrics emblazoned on the back of leather jackets.
Back on Top is full throttle TFB – an album with the uncanny ability to tear at your heart while showing you the best time you ever remember having—and as the good times turn into instant nostalgia – feel the engines roar as the cycles head for the horizon.