On Going Grey, The Front Bottoms fearlessly confront mental health struggles, and provide an album that’s fit to age well with their fans.
A couple years ago, I planned to see The Front Bottoms live to try to understand all of the hype surrounding them, but then I heard their single, “HELP,” and knew the rest of their 2015 release would pull me in. Back On Top was full of bright, extremely appealing instrumentals and infectious melodies that got me hooked on the album and had me diving into the band’s entire back catalog. That rarely happens for me, especially when a band has a lot of previous releases, but by the time I saw The Front Bottoms two months later, I knew every word to every song they played. I continued heavily listening to them for the rest of 2015 and into early 2016, but after that I kind of forgot about them because I hadn’t gotten the chance to see them live again, and had my focus elsewhere until Going Grey was announced.
In October of last year TFB released a two song EP that didn’t seem to do much for anyone. It seems that most people listened to it questioningly and forgot it happened. The singles from Going Grey allowed many to breathe a sigh of relief as the band’s sound for this album contains more of their early acoustic elements, but with a matured perspective, and even some fun with electronics.
After transporting your mind to the beach, “You Used To Say (Holy Fuck)” opens the album with a drum beat that signals a change of tone in the band’s discography. Brian Sella’s vocals and lyrics feel more serious; they aren’t masked with too many joyous instrumentals, and they aren’t as full of the laughable quirks that can distract from the main points he makes. That’s not to say this album isn’t full of bops though—you’ll be grooving along without a doubt. However, as opposed to using as much humor to cope with his problems, Sella is becoming more straightforward with listeners and himself. This makes the occasional quirks of the past feel out of place on this record—particularly in “Bae” where the title of the track also serves as the chorus.
Sella’s feelings resonate more deeply on Going Grey than any other records that The Front Bottoms have released which is fitting because he sings a lot about empathy, and how feelings and mental health affect relationships. In “Raining” he repeatedly asks, ‘How do you think that felt?’ as he’s presumably frustrated with no one understanding how he’s really doing, even when he appears to be okay. He spends time trying to find the sources of his anger, confusion, and inability to feel anything at all. In the album closer, “Ocean,” Sella sings, ‘This has nothing to do with you, it’s me versus me,’ which feels conclusive, but is then questioned and doubted in the next few lines. All of these hard-hitting lyrics are revealed through melodies that are structured in a way that makes singing along to them particularly fun.
The standout track on the album is definitely “Vacation Town.” It’s the single that caught my attention because it’s one of the band’s best songs lyrically, and even when the album finishes, ‘I miss the way things used to be,’ lingers in my head, and feels like one of the overall themes of Going Grey. Sella wishes for the times when his mind wasn’t constantly fighting itself, before life sent his thoughts and feelings into a downward spiral. This sense of longing for wellness, and some of the realities of getting older come through in his emotional exhaustion throughout the album.
Even if the people immediately surrounding Brian Sella don’t understand how he’s feeling, The Front Bottoms’ listeners sure do. The band and fans can sing, shout and dance their feelings away for a few hours at TFB’s US fall tour dates. Find info and tickets at thefrontbottoms.com/tour.