You Are Who You Hang Out With

You Are Who You Hang Out With

The Front Bottoms’ eighth album opens with a sound that will feel instantly reassuring to anyone who’s followed the New Jersey group since their early-2010s breakthrough. Leadoff track “Emotional” begins with a corrosive acoustic riff that perfectly encapsulates this band’s perennial balancing act between folk-song simplicity and punk-rock grit. But when singer/guitarist Brian Sella starts wordlessly wailing a few seconds in, that sense of comfort is instantly shattered—because his familiar voice is slathered in Auto-Tune. “It felt pretty punk rock to do it,” Sella tells Apple Music. “I’m always experimenting with new sounds, and I feel like it hits pretty hard when you hear it.” As Sella further explains, the Auto-Tune effect was less the product of some master plan than a weird demo experiment he decided to keep for the finished result. “That’s something we tried to lean into this album, with particular techniques: If it feels right, let’s just do it.” But as “Emotional” builds itself into a shout-it-out, festival-sized anthem, Sella’s software trickery comes to epitomize the internal tension at the core of You Are Who You Hang Out With: the instinct to do what comes naturally versus the desire to blaze a new path forward. On the one hand, You Are Who You Hang Out With embraces the instinctual, acoustic-oriented approach of The Front Bottoms’ earliest releases. (Of the breezy folk-rocker “Punching Bag,” Sella says, “We just tried to stay true to the acoustic guitar and drums, throw in some good lyrics, and then just let it ride.”) But the album also reflects the band’s gradual, decade-long graduation from scrappy Jersey DIY upstarts to bona fide amphitheater headliners, as Sella and drummer partner Mathew Uychich continue to push their sound to grandiose new heights. Songs like “Outlook” and “Batman” fold two oppositional early-2000s trends—MTV2-ready pop punk and ornate, glockenspiel indie rock—into seamless packages, while the combination of ’90s slacker guitar vibes and skyscraping chorus hooks on “Paris” proffers the Pavement/blink-182 mashup you didn’t know you needed. Perched on the line between the playful and profound, You Are Who You Hang Out With is a testament to The Front Bottoms’ willingness to grow without diluting their youthful energy. “This feels like the best stuff we’ve ever made,” Sella says, proudly. “Which seems kind of crazy to say, but I feel lucky to be able to say it, too, you know?”

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