The Front Bottoms are another in an increasingly large group of minimalist indie rock duos. They’re known for their primarily acoustic instrumentation, folksy lyrics and abstemious production.
However, their eighth album, “You Are Who You Hang Out With,” seems to point in a different direction.
Rather than shedding the aspects that define their sound, the band seems to be gradually folding elements into the performance and production that might have previously sounded out of place. Despite a lack of experience, this is done rather well for the most part, easing the listener into the new sounds so the shift isn’t so abrupt.
The album begins with “Emotional,” a track that takes some unexpected cues from hyperpop. It starts in classic fashion with unison acoustic and electric guitar strumming, but then a heavily autotuned vocal line enters.
The effect continues into the verse giving the vocals a computerized quality that contrasts with the folk punk instrumentation and arrangement. It isn’t omnipresent, but it’s a strange choice that may not sit right with some listeners.
The following tracks show something of a return to form, with a predominant folk-rock sound, but there’s a thread of the uncharacteristic that can be heard in places throughout. It’s not common, but it’s there.
Take “Clear Path” for example. For the most part, it seems like a typical Front Bottoms composition, albeit with a bit more emphasis on groove. But in the buildup to the chorus, a synth line can be heard in the background which continues faintly through the chorus.
Or “Paris,” which sees a brief return of the autotune amid a texture built on an acoustic guitar ostinato. It’s pushed further to the forefront later when everything drops out except for a synth drone and builds back up beginning with the vocal.
There’s a parallel, more prominent thread of generally more forceful compositions in “You Are Who You Hang Out With.” The band certainly has their fair share of energetic and busy material, but they’re generally associated more with their softer-spoken work.
“Brick” adopts a heavy punk rock sound with distortion aplenty and consistent quarter note piano chords. Lead singer Brian Sella’s voice sounds rather out of place here from the perspective of his previous work, but it has a certain breathless, pleading quality that fits well with the early 2000s emo sound this song evokes.
It ends with “Finding your way home,” a slow, quiet track that builds up throughout. It features a lofi synth line at the beginning with the early drums under the same crackle. By the halfway point, it has built into a quite busy backdrop with several guitar and synth lines interweaving with drums and strings.
“You Are Who You Hang Out With” is largely more intense than much of The Front Bottoms’ most well-known music and takes some steps out of the band’s comfort zone. Dedicated fans of the understated indie rock sound of years past may be somewhat disappointed, but the difference certainly isn’t night and day.