looking back at The Front Bottom’s second full-length album
Talon of the Hawk is an album that weaves through themes of codependency, desperation, faked smiles, and looming expectations. It feels like driving through midnight on open highways with the windows down, like the exact beat where you feel a situation become unbearable, like split second decisions that take a long time to make up for, like giving too much and getting too little or getting too much and not giving enough. Released in 2013, just as lead vocalist Brian Sella was about to turn 25, the album manages to communicate the patchy, uncertain transition into a real adulthood where everyone feels nothing or feels excessively.
This track lineup feels like a push and pull, one that’s unpredictable and jarring. It opens with a one and a half minute sniping, smartass retelling of a last argument between lovers. For the first half of the song, it’s calm and only when the full band kicks in is it clear that The Front Bottoms aren’t holding back. Besides sickeningly sweet love song “Peach”, each song feels like another kick in the gut when you listen on a second go-around and aren’t enveloped in the pseudo-positive upbeats of the album as a whole. Sella’s writing is, like always, is so impeccably specific that full life stories and relationships build and crumble in an average of three minutes. It BEGS to be sung along to, with authenticity and honesty that I don’t think I could convey in regular prose, much less song lyrics.
“Skeleton” comes crashing in behind the first track. With his whole chest, Sella fearlessly rolls through a confession of being desperately attached to someone who knows exactly how to make you tick. They leave you feeling empty when they’re gone, and that affect lingers until you start to crave the feeling of needing them because at least you’re feeling something. The chorus repeats the excuse of “But I got so stoned”— that’s why you’re sticking around. No one else knows how you function but them, and that codependency is a more wholesome feeling than forgetting them for good.
Continuing into “I Swear to God the Devil Made Me Do It”, Sella laments about the love that he can’t tear himself away from. It’s one where he knows the inner-workings of, and even if it’s falling apart, he knows how to scrape it back together. The relationship between them is bullshit and empty, but it’s familiar. So he stays, spitting game and restarting the cycle of superficiality.
After “Skeleton” and “I Swear to God”, there’s no letting up. The fourth track is the iconic anthem “Twin Size Mattress.” Arguably the most widely known The Front Bottoms song for it invading 2013-2015, it’s seething lyrics speak to a toxic environment where everyone is indulging in each other’s worst qualities, ignoring the inevitability of collapse. Cataloging a specific friend’s experience with drug addiction in the third verse comes the lyrics that permeated every layer of indie culture. “With tears in my eyes I begged you to stay / You said “hey man, I love you, but no fucking way.”” Sella layers his voice under the last words of “no fucking way” in a way that commands attention. No matter how much you want to save someone, they control whether they change or not. The last, building verse of the song holds so much power in the anthemic half-time that carries venomous wishes for Sella to remain alone forever. With the “she” Sella is referring to likely being the friend he tried to get to recognize their destructive behavior, he laments that “She hopes I’m cursed forever / To sleep on a twin-sized mattress / In somebody’s attic or basement my whole life / Never graduating up in size to add another / And my nightmares will have nightmares every night.” It stings. “Twin Size Mattress” carries weight in every single word, and there’s no denying why it became a cornerstone for emo/indie culture when it premiered.
“Santa Monica” reminisces on a beach-trip fling. A weekend installment with a person you have no past or future with, so it’s easy to confess everything you’ve been hiding. Sella speaks on the manner of pretending, fantasizing about a relationship that in the moment seems to simple. But old habits creep in, along with emotions, and you’re left with an empty premise of a future that would never work out.
The confrontation of fantasy and real life come in the song “Backflip,” which is my personal favorite on the album. Sella tumbles through its verses in a breathy rambling of self-realization, bottled-up emotions, and harmful coping mechanisms. Avoidance comes in the form of stick-and-poke tattoos on the kitchen floor, smoking weed, and idealization of a secluded lifestyle. Somehow, though, this song has an air of hope that tucks itself in the way that Sella finds his mind wandering to the years in front of him. There are answers to everything, you just have to want to seek them out. Soon you’ll be able to work your way through these situations sober and honestly. You’re ready to scream, all you need is the first cut and everything will come pouring out.
To me, Talon of the Hawk is a self-expose of a person who knows they’re chasing an empty sensation, who recognizes their behavior is fake– and these are the tracks that exemplify it best. These people function in a haze of bullshit and fantasies that lets them cope until they decide to grow up a little. But that haze is where they feel safe, it’s familiar and reliable. Comfortable. It’s something you acknowledge is only a temporary solution, but aren’t ready to get rid of because you’re scared you won’t ever feel just right without it.
Noteable Lyrics –
“Come on baby calm me down / you’re the only one who knows how” (Skeleton)
“I wanna make tear-jerking, shower-cutain, cameras-ruining genius / I wanna make them think they’re seeing something they ain’t never seen before” “I just want this to mean something to anyone / even if they don’t know who I am” (I Swear to God the Devil Made Me Do It)
“One day, you will find someone / who will love you like you deserve” (Peach)
“I wanna be stronger than your dad was for your mom” (Santa Monica)
“But you were young / you thought you didn’t have to care about anyone / But you’re older now and wish that you could” (Funny You Should Ask)
“You had me go from what I thought was sliding carefully / to seriously slipping out of control” “She says “it just don’t make no sense / why can’t it work out in my head / why I can’t be happy, there’s definitely reasons I should be”” (Tattooed Tears)
“Nothing feels alright now / the length of my hair or the fit of my clothes” (Lone Star)
“Teach my rolling veins / where there’s a will there is a way / Just cut me open, let me drain, oh, let me drain” (Backflip)
“It’s reached the point in the night where I need to decide / whether I am gonna fall asleep or watch the sun rise / We are both into letting this develop / but the thought of starting over always sounded so much better” (Everything I Own)