What is it about the state of New Jersey and lead singers who tend to overshare? The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon and Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles are the most popular torch-bearers for this Garden State tendency, guys who wear their hearts, lungs, and spleens on their sleeves in their songwriting. Maybe it all goes back to The Boss himself, since Bruce Springsteen’s first few albums were replete with wordy yet invigorating street anthems.
Add The Front Bottoms’ Brian Sella to this growing and pretty distinguished list. Sella doesn’t so much sing as he does declaim the dozen songs on the band’s second album Talon Of The Hawk, in the process painting a picture of a guy tortured by love yet unable to resist its charms, frustrated by his mistakes and yet clinically unable to avoid them. It’s not exactly new territory, yet Sella mines it in interesting, humorous, and sometimes surprisingly affecting ways.
The rest of the band (Matt Uychich on drums, Tom Warren on bass and Ciaran O’Donnel on keys, trumpet, and guitar join Sella on lead guitar) is tasked with keeping up with their leader, and that’s no easy thing to do. The band at times falls into a rut of songs with relatively spare intros followed by crunching guitars, although a spate of catchy choruses help to bail them out most of the time.
Occasionally the band recalls turn-of-the-millennium bands like Marvelous 3 or Lit, who were caught somewhere in a nether region between pop, punk, and hard rock. Other times, they come off like an American version of Los Campesinos!, with lyrical acrobatics tied to musical momentum. When they’re at their best, however, The Front Bottoms escape the shadows of any predecessors or contemporaries, such as on showcase track “Twin Size Mattress,” which is epic and unruly all at once and perfectly in keeping with the dramatics of Sella’s tale.
Sella has a knack for self-deprecating wisecracks which undercut all the angst. In “Skeleton,” he sings, “I can’t get past you/You are the cops, you are my student loan.” That line pretty much time-stamps all of the narrators of these songs, guys just out of school (or maybe dropped out) who are hanging around the neighborhood out of a combination of habit and lack of other opportunities, yet self-aware enough to realize their doldrums.
Amidst the gleaming power-pop of the closing track “Everything I Own,” Sella finally reaches a kind of resigned satisfaction: “This is not the way I plan on living for the rest of my life/But for right now it gets me by.” It’s a good summation for Talon Of The Hawk, an album that’s probably not as good as The Front Bottoms are bound to get, but is just fine for right now.