Something about my southern upbringing makes me a sucker for almost anything with an acoustic guitar. While I’m not going out of my way to listen to the hottest new country hits by Luke Bryan, there’s a certain amount of familiarity that I feel anytime an album revolves around a lead acoustic guitar, bringing back images of Johnny Cash or Guy Clarke songs being played on a porch by my father’s friends. Though certainly not sharing much of an overlapping audience with Clarke, The Front Bottoms are a band that plows the same territory of both music and lyrics that are helplessly relatable.
The Front Bottoms are a band hailing from New Jersey signed to Bar/None records, combining acoustic-led rock and roll with snarky, often humorous lyrics. Talon of the Hawk is their second work to not be self-released, bringing a fuller sound than previous works, including their 2011 self-titled. Adding a bassist and electric guitar/keyboard player to the two man setup of singer/guitarist Brian Stella and Drummer Matt Uychich was initially off-putting for me, since I had grown rather fond of their simplistic lineup (especially live) and am generally a giant baby who hates change in any band lineup, but after giving the album a few listens and eventually seeing them play live two nights in a row it became apparent to me that this would be the album that defined my summer.
A few songs such as “Au Revoir,” “Swear to God the Devil Made Me Do It,” and “Santa Monica” touch on the same simplicity found in their earlier material, and so familiar that if someone told me that they were on the self titled, I’d hardly disagree.
Other songs like “Backflip” and “Tattooed Tears” are upbeat, danceable and rambling songs. “Back Flip” is a personal favorite, throwing the listener directly into a night involving frontman Brian Stella, a lot of alcohol and a rather unsanitary tattoo procedure, later coming to terms with his suspicions that his lifestyle might be unseemly for many people.
For everything that can be said about this album, the strongest point is Stella’s ability to craft a series of anecdotes of everything from skinny dipping in a lake to getting uncomfortable because of a person staring him down at a stoplight and putting the listener there, making them fear the nonexistent shark and laugh with triumph as the windows are tinted and the tension disappears. Despite the fact that these stories come from his personal experience, the feelings of discomfort and youth seem almost universal, and listening it’s hard to separate yourself from the situation being described.
The album does not, however, fall short of making an emotional impact. Often, Stella mocks himself and his inability to cope with his immaturity despite his age, with lyrics like “but who’s gonna push my wheelchair / around when I get sick? / God forbid I ever stop feeling sorry for myself / for being selfish” on “Everything I Own” and calling himself and “emotional baby boy” constantly in Santa Monica. Lamenting that “I should probably admit it / but I probably won’t / that he is the sound you want now / and I am the noise you don’t” Stella shows a vulnerable side that’s all too familiar to many people.
The high point of the album is definitely “Twin Size Mattress,” a song that’s far better heard than described, so give it a listen yourself.
Overall, Talon of The Hawk was my favorite album of the summer, and you can pick it up at any of the places listed here.
By Luke Runte