In a defining year of political corruption, social upheaval and arbitrary violence, music drowned out the negativity and created positivity. Five albums, however, stood out and deserve recognition for their lyricism, instrumentation and raw ingenuity.
In a music scene where indie credibility is everything, New Jersey based band The Front Bottoms went against the conventional. With simplistic chord progressions, erratic drumming, blaring trumpeting and angsty yet obscure lyrics, The Front Bottoms have made a name for themselves on their own terms.
Last month they dropped their sixth album, “Going Grey” with their new record label Fueled by Ramen. This album takes a different but pleasing approach to their classic sound. In songs like “Vacation Town,” “Raining” and “Grand Finale,” the band embraces synthesizers and other production elements previously unheard in their sound. These subtle incorporations, however, are fitting and show the band’s matured musicianship.
Three days before their concert at the House of Blues on Nov. 10, The Front Bottoms announced an in-store performance at M-Theory Music. I had the opportunity to watch them perform acoustic versions of new tunes and fan favorites. Manned with his acoustic guitar, Brian Sella sang about middle fingers, steroids and bong rips as the crowd enthusiastically sang back. The two necked electric guitar was also a nice touch. The music store’s crowd was intimate and laid back, but it was a whole different story for the audience in the House of Blues.
The concert was packed and the crowd was insane. BadBadHats first performed and they rocked their set. Afterwards, Basement took the stage and that’s when all hell broke lose. Stuck in the middle of the pit, I pushed and shoved concertgoers like my life depended on it. Nevertheless, I still sang/yelled along to bangers like “Aquasun,” “Pine” and “Bad Apple.” Apparently, some people got so hyped and aggressive that a fight broke out. Finishing their set with their lead single “Promise Everything,” Basement thanked the audience and we were left waiting in restless agony for the main act.
Soon, The Front Bottoms walked onto stage. They opened with “You Used to Say (Holy F*ck)” and then lead into “Skeleton.” And the crowd went wild. The atmosphere, however, was different. It wasn’t aggressive, and was instead full of good vibes and happy moshing. From start to finish, I belted the words to every song like I had my heartbroken by a non-existent lover. In contrast to the crowd’s energy, the band was laid back as ever. Kicking off their shoes and making the venue their home, they put on a spectacular show. Matt Uychich (drums) set the pace for the band with his unorthodox rhythm. Brian Sella’s booming voice in songs like “The Beers” and “Tattooed Tears” sent the crowd into an angsty frenzy. The night was blur.
Despite the sweaty mess I was, the concert had its fill of special moments. When Jen the trumpet player had her solo in “2YL” (one of my favorite TFB songs), the pit opened up and the crowd moshed. I had never seen a crowd go crazy to a trumpet solo until that night; it was definitely a sight to see. “West Virginia” and “Vacation Town” were other fan favorites and the audience was equally as wild. The band closed the show with “Lonely Eyes,” a very old song from their 2008 self release “I Hate My Friends,” as well as “Flashlight” and “Ocean.”
Thank you The Front Bottoms for the best and craziest concert of my life. Despite getting pushed, shoved and punched the entire night, I had so much fun. I highly recommend seeing The Front Bottoms live. Their acoustic driven music is energetic and unique, and deserving of more recognition.
Featured image taken by Dane Burns
Citizen has been an ever-evolving band since the release of their 2013 album, “Youth.” The dark themes paired with heavy instrumentation and lyricism made it a fan favorite. Songs such as “Sleep” and “The Summer” set the tone early for a band still craving experimentation.
In their second album, “Everybody is Going to Heaven,” Citizen took an even heavier approach. Mat Kerkes’s vocals were much more morbid with heavy bass instrumentation. The album was almost haunting. “As You Please,” however, is the perfect mixture of the pop punk and post-grunge sound Citizen has been dabbling in.
The album opens up with their lead single “Jet” which has to be one of the best songs on the track list. Fuzz-toned guitars manned by Ryland Oehlers and Nick Hamm steadily start the song off as the drums and bass create the full sound. The shoegaze-esque instrumentation is accompanied by Mat Kerkes’ well-developed voice. He shows off his pipes and even a falsetto in the chorus, proving he has matured as a vocalist. Tracks like “In the Middle of it All,” “World” and “Flowerchild” also show off his vocal talent.
Many fans love the nostalgic sound of “Youth,” but those who say it’s better than their most recent release are completely wrong. Here’s why. “As You Please” is a post-grunge effort with heavy yet atmospheric instruments that are crisp and well-defined. For example, “Fever Days” starts with ethereal plucking that was previously unheard in Citizen’s discography. A heavy bass-driven riff then cuts off the entrancing guitar as it subtly rings throughout the song. It fills up the empty sound accompanied only by sustained guitar notes and drums. Kerkes’ aggressive vocals is the last, satisfying touch to this perfect Citizen song.
“World” is another passionate song that is well written both musically and lyrically. With its bright guitars, crisp drums, rich bass and ambient backing vocals, the song is finalized with some of my favorite thought-provoking lyrics. In the post-chorus, Kerkes sings “Split me open/Let the air out/I’m your old friend,” with so much gut wrenching grit and emotion that I can’t help but shed a few tears. His songwriting is some of the most profound and eloquent out there and, for once, it forces me to pay attention to the words, not just the instruments.
“Fever Days” and “World” are definitely favorites for their unique musicality – which was missing from the band’s previous albums. I appreciate bands that aren’t afraid to experiment in different genres, but still maintain their established sound, like Citizen. “As You Please” shows fans that change is necessary. In a scene that tends to always sound the same, this album is step forward in musical experimentation and progress.
Favorites: “Jet,” “In the Middle of it All,” “Fever Days” and “World”
Least Favorites: “I Forgive No One” and “You are a Star”
Featured Image by Chloe Muro.
In 2015, Chicago-based band Knuckle Puck debuted into the pop punk scene with their LP, “Copacetic.” The album’s instrumental depth, honest lyricism and ear-wormy tracks have given the band a deserving amount of recognition and praise. As a result, the band’s talent and growing popularity has made their sophomore album, “Shapeshifter,” a highly anticipated release. Unfortunately, this album did not live up to the hype and standards of its predecessor, simply falling flat. It lacks the hard-hitting guitar work, the catchy vocal melody sung by Joe Taylor and the raw emotions from “Copacetic.”
Before the album drop, Knuckle Puck released three singles, “Gone,” “Double Helix” and “Want Me Around.” All are solid tracks but, in my opinion, lack the big guitar riffs and distinctive choruses that made their past work so addictive. “Gone” and “Double Helix” open up with the bright guitars and punchy drums that I love and appreciate. However, I realized these tracks don’t have anything remarkable about them. In other words, they are forgettable and boring. Knuckle Puck chose to be lazy and follow the standard pop punk formula. This includes fast-paced chord progressions, monotonous nasally yelling and slow strumming or picking during the bridge. To make matters worse, “Gone” sounds awkwardly choppy as Joe is unnecessarily screaming “Gone” throughout the chorus. Anyone who thinks this song has any bit of catchiness is above me. Granted, the more I listen to “Want Me Around,” the more I like it.
In addition, “Everyone Lies to Me” and “Conduit” have Knuckle Puck’s melodious and guitar driven sound that’s missing from the rest of this album. “Everyone Lies to Me” is a track heavily influenced by Set Your Goals for its spoken word style and mean flow in the verses. Nick and Joe switch off between lead vocals, delivering their lines aggressively and in response to each other. Backing vocalist Nick Casasanto also adds vocal variations that I love in the second verse. The guitar and bass are simple yet accompany his lighthearted singing effortlessly. Overall, this politically driven song is my favorite off the album.
“Conduit” is another top track that reminds me of songs from “Copacetic.” The atmospheric guitars and layering of each instrument create this perfect, somber ambience. It starts off slow with simple plucking guitars but soon builds up as the drums and bass fill the empty sound. The way the backing vocals are incorporated into the production is incredible as well. Layered, filtered and mixed to create this “far away” sound, the vocals add depth and smooth transitions from verse to verse.
Objectively, this is a solid album but, in comparison to their older music, fails to hit me in the feels. “Shapeshifter” is a formulaic album that lacks in both the instrumental and vocal department. A majority of the songs are missing this special element that I can’t seem to put my finger on. Maybe it’s not ear wormy enough or it lacks raw emotions. Whatever it may be, it’s the missing spark that made me fall in love with Knuckle Puck in the first place.
Favorites: “Everyone Lies to Me,” “Conduit” and “Wait”
Least favorites: “Gone,” “Double Helix” and “Stuck in Our Ways”
Featured Image by Leighton Stollard