Talk-singing can be a double-edged sword. Done right, and it can be both an authentic and a relaxed, even funny, way to tell stories in a song (see early Art Brut – QRO spotlight on). Done wrong, and it can feel both self-important and lazy (see The Hold Steady – QRO live review). Either way, it doesn’t feel very ‘indie’ or ‘urban’, but instead evokes the kind of older, post-industrial suburb – i.e., New Jersey. The Garden State’s The Front Bottoms largely do the talk-sing right on their self-titled debut.
The Front Bottoms feels as this generation’s Jersey as a Kevin Smith movie (as opposed to your father’s Jersey in Bruce Springsteen – QRO live review), especially in back-to-back-to-back "Looking Like You Just Woke Up", "Mountain", and (paradoxically) "Rhode Island", as New Jersey bands seem to particularly like talk-singing about states – and it’s better when also involving crossing state lines with fireworks ("Mountain"), or at least the Ocean State. It does wear thin on repeated listens, or even near the end with the less interesting tracks such as "The Boredom Is the Reason" (bands shouldn’t use boredom as subject matter…), "Bathtub", or closer "Hooped Earrings".
While The Front Bottoms’ talk-singing can’t help but be their most noticeable aspect, there is some interesting instrumentation going on behind it. After hearing the first notes of opener "Flashlight", one immediately thinks of Two Door Cinema Club’s (QRO album review) great indie-dance hit of last year, "What You Know". There’s synth and darker back tones to "Legit Tattoo Gun", and "Father" plus especially the following "Swimming Pool" have actual melody (even if their subject matter is pretty ‘growing up in Jersey’ – but authentically Jersey).
Talk-singing is both an acquired taste (it’s not sing-singing) and an easily accessible one (it’s just talking), leading to both underrating (check out recorded-in-Jersey Wormburner – QRO live review) and overrating (Brooklyn’s Hold Steady). The Front Bottoms largely do it the right way on The Front Bottoms, and are even developing the tools to be something more than just Jersey.
MP3 Stream: "Mountain"