By Quinn Gill
“The name of this band was gonna be Mass Shooter, but the tone felt too spot on,” Brian Sella sings on The Front Bottoms‘ new album, You Are Who You Hang Out With.
Though the lyrics for “Fake Gold” evoke the band’s typical teenage angst, the cheery tone and cheesy pop aesthetic is so foreign to the gritty sound of the New Jersey folk punk, rock and emo band that it’s easy to assume you’re listening to something entirely different.
The opening track, “Emotional,” features so much vocal distortion that your ears start to hurt, and the grungy bass line serves as a reminder that The Front Bottoms have never wanted to be easy listening. Combined with the eerily driven, spunky rhythms of “Paris” and the slightly corny melody of “Clear Path,” You Are Who You Hang Out With sounds as if an album of top-50 hits ran off to Georgia and developed a debilitating addiction to cigarettes and Jack Daniels.
Some of the songs feel reminiscent of The Front Bottoms’ biggest hits and the rough-around-the-edges sound that made them famous. “Batman,” the most old-school of the bunch, sounds straight off of 2013’s Talon of the Hawk with its plucky guitar lines that leads into a smooth drumbeat and rough, unpolished vocals. The song also calls upon the time-honored Midwestern emo tradition of making up an extremely specific situation and writing a song about it: “Batman covers his face/ When I take the picture, he doesn’t want anyone to know he was here.”
“Brick” functions similarly, with its first verse sounding exactly like the band’s moment in the spotlight in the 2010s; that is, until the break between verses hits, and suddenly you’re listening to chopped-up and pitch-adjusted chunks of Sella’s voice.
Singles “Punching Bag” and “Outlook,” as well as “Finding Your Way Home,” draw on the more evolved rock and roll sound featured on their last album, In Sickness & In Flames.
The Front Bottoms are no strangers to controversial and genre-defying musical choices. From their split EP with rapper GDP, to 2017’s synth-heavy and strange album, Going Grey, to the mixed critical reception of In Sickness & In Flames, the duo has proven that it would rather try a million new things than grow stagnant. You Are Who You Hang Out With feels like both a logical successor in the band’s harsh, moody catalog, and at the same time a weird, imperfect and overproduced outlier.
To many Front Bottoms fans, it can seem like their golden age—with Rose and Talon of The Hawk, sold-out shows and soundtracking TikTok reels—has ended. But a kickoff concert at Colorado’s iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre on the album’s release date feels like a giant step forward, and a reminder that they’re planning on sticking around at least a little while longer.