With album seven, The Front Bottoms have crafted a sharp and unflinching collection that harks back to the magic of their 2011 self-titled debut. The New Jersey folk-punk band took a creative risk with 2017’s synth-packed ‘Going Grey’, and ‘In Sickness & In Flames’ finds them returning to more familiar territory, confirming their ability to mine millennial angst with verve.
Tackling themes of difficult break-ups, self-sabotage and anxiety, guitarist and vocalist Brian Sella and drummer Mathew Uychich tap into the seemingly eternal adolescence that spools into your early thirties. With ‘In Sickness & In Flames’, they point towards growth and, eventually, stability. This is most evident on emo-influenced, energetic album opener ‘Everyone Blooms’, which scythes from minimalist, tightly wound bass and vocals to a maximalist, pounding chorus.
“My attitude, my outlook / I realise now it matters”: Sella repeats the words like a mantra over acoustic guitar, before the song explodes once more at the line “everyone blooms / In their own time,” the jubilant medium matching the message that “you’re gonna be fine fine fine”. The optimism is catching.
The Front Bottoms have never shied away from their juvenile sense-of-humour – just look at their name – and this is integral to their worldview. Sella knows that life is absurd, and that often the best approach is to laugh in the face of adversity. It’s this tried-and-tested approach that makes the stories on ‘In Sickness & In Flames’ so relatable. Sing-a-long-ready single ‘Camouflage’ sees Sella reflect “and to think I was having a mental breakdown / The same time you were painting your walls,” while on the rousing, poppy-banger ‘Jerk’ he announces “the world is so fucked / I wanna go back in the house.” The anxiety is palpable.
The record was produced by US rock don Mike Sapone (who’s helmed projects for the likes of Taking Back Sunday) and is packed with heavy riffs, swelling string-accompanied crescendos and drums that never let up.
It’s further fleshed out in typical Front Bottoms fashion: distant voices echo chorus lines, mimicking the crowd singing at a live show; field recordings on ‘New Song D’ and ‘Love At First Sight’ invite us into a collage-like creative process; and a voicemail message on ‘Montgomery Forever’ provides narrative resolution: “A long time ago I promised that if you were happy, I was happy… Nothing else to talk about.”
‘In Sickness & In Flames’ is a defining work that showcases a sonic universe, rather than a structured set of songs, expertly capturing the inescapable tension of 2020.
Release date: August 21
Record label: Atlantic Records