Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Album Review: The Front Bottoms - Talon Of The Hawk

Album Rating: B
It's tough to follow up a breakout record. Some groups feel it's best to keep it safe and replicate that which brought them fame, while others feel the necessity to branch out and expand their sound into something bigger and better. The Front Bottoms lean into the latter realm, as it is now a more fleshed out full band working with a much higher production value than on its 2011 self-titled record. However, much of the charm and quirkiness that dominated that record and made it both relatable and utterly enjoyable feels missing, as Talon Of The Hawk showcases a band displaying sparks of greatness but still needing to hone their craft a little further.

From the fuller arrangements to vocal polishing and more cohesive lyrics, the band has definitely tightened up their performance. For The Front Bottoms, however, those changes actually may have harmed the record. In their Spotify commentary on the album, the band speaks about how "Peach" was originally supposed to be a fully acoustic track. The addition of keys really harms the track, as those segments just feel forced and awkward.  What's more, the vocals often lack the charm that made them such an endearing trait of the self-titled. "Skeleton" ends up falling apart due to the vocals, as vocalist Brian Sella oversings parts of the song and it feels extremely unnatural, taking away the strongest ability his voice contains.

In fact, the majority of the first half of the record seems to fall flat. Opener "Au Revoir" is a catchy and silly intro track, but seems to lack substance and does not get close to matching up to the beast of an album opener that "Flashlight" from the self-titled was. It isn't until the wondrously upbeat "The Feud" that the energy finally kicks back up and punches some extra life into the album. It's a disappointing start for a band whose previous album was able to win fans over from the get-go and puts a sour taste into the mouths of those who had expected Talon Of The Hawk to be an album of the year contender.

However, there are moments in which The Front Bottoms' newfound attention to detail shines through and gives us some of the strongest moments that the band has displayed to date. "Funny You Should Ask" is one of the most dynamic and emotive tracks they have released, highlighted by the second pre-chorus where Sella cries "Come on Chelsea speak a little French for me / heard you spent two whole semesters drinking wine / while I was stuck in Jersey trying to save some money / I guess I'm just another thing you left behind." His voice moves from a powerful shout to a quivering, resigned pout through the line, a powerful moment that easily lets the listener feel his personal grief. It still doesn't reach the heights of "Twin Sized Mattress," arguably the band's best song to date. It's a breath of fresh air in that dull first half of the record and gives a listener that bit of confidence to continue on into that stronger second half. The arrangement is definitely far more calculated than any of the band's previous material, from the gently plucks of guitar to the perfectly mixed drumbeats, to the perfect entrances of tambourine and harmonies in the chorus. The vocal melodies flow perfectly, and the song builds up perfectly to the song's ending climax, sure to be a highlight in the band's already renowned live performance.

Even with the weak closer of "Everything I Own," the album ends up ending far better than it starts. The one-two punch "Lone Star" and "Backflip" would have been an excellent conclusion to a record, an inspiration of hope after an album that feels like a band trying to find their footing. It's still hard to complain about an album that reaches such high peaks even after some low moments and contains as many good tracks as weaker ones. Talon Of The Hawk may not be The Front Bottoms' definitive statement, but it is one that shows they are very possibly nearing heights few bands will ever reach.


1. Au Revoir (Adios)
2. Skeleton
3. I Swear To God The Devil Made Me Do It
4. Twin Size Mattress
5. Peach
6. Santa Monica
7. The Feud
8. Funny You Should Ask
9. Tattooed Tears
10. Lone Star
11. Backflip
12. Everything I Own

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