Some TV shows start out strong in their first few seasons before gradually petering out. The Front Bottoms‘ seventh album, In Sickness & In Flames, feels similarly anticlimactic.
With an incredibly strong start and vibrant energy initially, the latter half struggles to maintain the creative output. Still, lead vocalist and guitarist Brian Sella delivers his signature anxiety and neurotic songs about a wide array of strained relationships, while maintaining a relatable demeanor.
Opener “everyone blooms” delivers the promising start with soft acoustic guitar playing and plunky synth, gradually leading into an early 2000s emo flavor reminiscent of Fueled By Ramen alumnus Jimmy Eat World. It’s followed by “camouflage,” which tempts listeners with an eerie distorted intro that jumps hard into a driving rock melody. Contrasting with the infectious and upbeat melody, the song details the events of the narrator’s nervous breakdown.
The song is cut short with the interjection of the following track, “jerk.” This one has a blend of electro-pop elements juxtaposing The Front Bottoms’ more traditional folk-punk style. “The truth” is textbook Front Bottoms; something that wouldn’t be out of place on the band’s self-titled 2011 album. “Montgomery forever” follows the singer and his girlfriend’s chaotic connections to the Alabama town. These two tracks are omens of the duller moments to come in the latter half of In Sickness & In Flames.
“The Hard Way” subsequently details the tumultuous breakup between the narrator and his partner, where he dresses his own personal failings along the way: “Rough at the start/ I’m not perfect, I’m falling apart/ It’s not worth it.” “The leaf pile” embraces the stylings of more hardcore emo acts like Dashboard Confessional, where Sella delivers a strained and tormented performance following the fallout of the breakup of the previous track. The guitars deliver a heavy wailing refrain as he closes the track with a mantra: “I don’t want to talk.”
“New song d” opens interestingly enough with an electro-pop style reminiscent of MGMT but gradually comes apart the longer the tune drags on. Recycling spoken-word as a way to break up the track with unnecessary distortions make it hard to care or follow along. “Fairbanks, Alaska” draws a similar narrative to “montgomery forever,” albeit with a softer acoustic vibe. “Love at first sight” tries to salvage the more conceptual idea behind the album, exploring the deterioration of relationships, but this song would’ve served better to be place earlier on the album for consistency sake.
The Front Bottoms are a terrific band. However, this album very clearly shows how Sella exhausted his creative output, with half of the material coming across like packing peanut filler.
Follow editor Tim Hoffman at Twitter.com/hipsterp0tamus.