The indie rock duo’s latest offering is an emotional, playful look at identity and loserdom
There’s always been a cheerful nihilism to the Front Bottoms’ best work – a kind of shrugging, smiling, ‘it is what it is’ response to the messiness both around and within them. Equally, the duo’s songwriting is often painfully vulnerable. These are the facts of the situation. This is how they feel about them. None of it can be helped, and that’s not necessarily depressing. It’s just the way it is.
All of this is true of You Are Who You Hang Out With, which balances the melancholia of 2020’s In Sickness And In Flames with the folky, whimsical storytelling of early albums The Front Bottoms and Talon Of The Hawk. Singer and guitarist Brian Sella frequently acknowledges his tendency to wear his heart on his sleeve. “Ask if I’m emotional? F*ck yeah,” he sings on opener ‘Emotional’. On the excellent ‘Batman’, the album’s penultimate track and a rumination on self-awareness and self-image, he asks the listener “if it’s irritating to you the way I choose to sing/So broke down, so hyper, so sensitive.”
They’re well-chosen adjectives, as much criticisms as they are everything that is excellent about Sella’s vocal performance. “Don’t laugh, it’s not funny,” he demands petulantly on ‘Not Joking’. “It may or may not seem like you’re leaving me behind,” he sings on ‘Fake Gold’, increasingly desperate over a deceptively jaunty instrumental. On ‘Clear Path’ he embodies the misguided forever-teenager, satisfyingly whiny and yet sincere in his plea for someone to show him how to move forward.
The duo enjoy presenting themselves in this way: as hopeless, over-emotional losers just fighting to live respectably. “I was never cool, I thought I told you,” shrugs Sella on ‘Not Joking’, one of many references to a lack of cool. It’s endearing rather than eye roll-inducing because we know, however they may truly see themselves, that the Front Bottoms are far from lost. They manage to present skillful songwriting as an outpouring of words, emotions demanding to be expressed, set to energetic, sometimes frantic instrumentations. But what is played as blunt is always precise, and what seems effortless is always highly deliberate. These ten tracks of creative, playful indie rock are an exercise in excellence – disguised as dorm-room poetry.