I think you have to be careful when you say something like, “This album will be the band’s breakout record.” In this new world where everything is sliced and diced into smaller and smaller sections by cable TV and the Internet, words like “breakout” and “success” have a different meaning than they did before. That being said, Talon of the Hawk should open the eyes of a much larger audience to New Jersey’s own The Front Bottoms.
The band’s 2011 self-titled debut is fun, raucous, hilariously funny, and poignant. That’s all done with Brian Sella’s talk-singing delivery of his copious, scattershot lyrics, the thumping strum of his acoustic guitar, and Matt Uychich’s frantic drumming. The approach has earned the band a rabid and devout following. I got to see this in action at the Stone Pony on Thanksgiving Eve 2012 as the entire venue screamed every lyric in unison almost totally drowning out Sella’s vocals – a small version of the Beatles at Shea.
Talon of the Hawk cranks up and rounds out The Front Bottoms’ sound with accordion, keys, bass, horns, and… is that a glockenspiel on “Back Flip?” Everything is bigger and brighter, but the soul of Sella and Uychich remains. It all adds up to something capable of spreading the enthusiasm displayed by a couple hundred fans in Asbury Park like a virus across the land.
Paradoxically, the album opens with a goodbye in “Au revoir (Adios).” In the song, Sella is breaking off a relationship like a jerk. His soon-to-be former partner notes this, and stings him in the process. That’s one of a couple of moments where Sella’s narrator starts off sounding tough only to find that he can’t quite pull it off. On “Skeleton,” he says, “I’ve got very strong bones,” before admitting that everything else has been chewed away by someone he just can’t get over and falling asleep, stoned, in the front seat of his car. On “The Feud,” he steadfastly refuses to admit that someone’s moved on from him.
The rest of the time he’s the “emotional baby boy, emotional man” of “Santa Monica.” On single “Twin Size Mattress,” he tearfully begs a friend to stay or join the band on the road rather than leave alone. He says, “God forbid I ever stop feeling sorry for myself for being selfish,” on “Everything I Own.”
It’s that combination of deeply personal, self-deprecating lyrics over throbbing, danceable melodies and fist-pumping sing-alongs that gives The Front Bottoms their potential for wide appeal – that, and the fact that their sound is not easily pigeonholed into folk, punk, pop, pop-punk, indie rock or whatever.
I’m not sure how to measure these things anymore, but Talon of the Hawk sets The Front Bottoms up for some type of success. Judging from the chemistry between Sella and Uychich that’s evident on every song, that may be as simple as having a great time with anyone who decides to come join them at a show. If you ever do notice that they’ll be coming to your town, though, make sure to scoop up your tickets early. They’re gonna go quickly.
Talon of the Hawk is out May 21st on New Jersey’s Bar/None.