Considering the profound influence it has had on mainstream rock music in the new millennium, it’s ashamedly baffling how little real estate this site has dedicated to Las Vegas rock band The Killers over the course of its six-year online existence. Notwithstanding the somewhat lopsided distribution of studio projects released by the Brandon Flowers-fronted outfit during their almost twenty-year-long career—prolifically loaded in its front-end, with four LPs within eight years between 2004 and 2012 (Hot Fuss, Sam’s Town, Day & Age, and Battle Born), only to go on to release just two more in as many years since then (2017’s Wonderful Wonderful and last week’s Imploding the Mirage)—there is no denying that such a recidivistic AWOL state ought to be remedied in spades. What better occasion to right such unjust wrong than the highly anticipated, greatly acclaimed, and bizarrely delayed issuance of the American alt rockers’ sixth official full length album, out on Friday 21st August on Island Records.
American adult alternative rock stalwarts The Killers—nowadays virtually just answering roll calls as frontman Flowers and drummer Ronnie Vannucci, Jr—should not need any formal introduction to many a cultural bystanders, owing to their bragging rights awarded a mighty flexing of around a dozen modern-day indie rock classics that brought them top-of-the-charts comfort and festival crowd-pleasers alike. Announced by the group’s camp in early March alongside triumphant and life-affirming lead single “Caution“, and following up their slept-on and critically slashed Wonderful Wonderful two years prior, Imploding the Mirage mirrors its predecessor in track listing and runtime (ten songs clocking in at around 42 minutes). Unlike its forerunner though, it’s tightly packed with big, larger-than-life, loudness-war victorious arena fist throwers, collaboratively dished out with a host of unlikely co-signs, ranging from Canadian pop singer k.d. lang to The War on Drugs‘ Adam Granduciel, although the mightiest headline-inducing cameo comes courtesy of former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsey Buckingham (who lends six-string wizardry to the aforementioned “Caution”).
After a second teaser to the full length following around the end of April in the shape of the hazy world-grooves encapsulated by the outstanding “Fire in Bone“, the group saw fit to unveil two more sonically eclectic and compositionally dense cuts prior to the full exploit between June and August—the ripe and wondrous album opener “My Own Soul’s Warning” and the Springsteenian synthetic horse-galloper “Dying Breed” (the former attached to two official music videos in an unconventional promo stunt). Truth be told, in retrospect such an assembly of ginormous preview tracks functioned as the perfect canary in the coal mine for the tiring full project experience, on the heels of their nearly asphyxiating sonic grandeur and pitiless climactic sound dynamics, pulling one uppercut after another to unaware listeners, found drowning in these records’ blown out mastering and fat stem layering. Don’t get it twisted though, none of these are bad songs in and of themselves—they are just a lot on the eardrum.
Regrettably, the remaining six joints on the record provide little respite from gargantuan sound compression and airwaves-stuffing fatigue. Cases in point are the album’s two synth-overdosed weaker closing moments, “When the Dreams Run Dry” and the vast, elusive, and spacious title track. Again—not the worst tunes the band has ever written, but enveloped in as much testosterone-fuelled overboard sound design that it dilutes and decoys from their redeemable compositional merits. It’s a shame that when Imploding the Mirage does take a breather and attempts to slow down the adagio a notch, such as with the piano-led mid-tempo radio ballad “Lightning Fields“, or the Weyes Blood-assisted cinematic ear worm “My God“, these plateaus actually double as outright lull snoozers of the pack, particularly when considered in the context of the full record’s songwriting valour. Meanwhile, thankfully and conversely, the Big Country-homaging sing-along stunner “Blowback” and the glorious saccharine guitar-work on “Running Towards a Place” easily make for some of The Killers’ most laudable and inspired work in a decade, significantly contributing to elevating the album’s overall lasting creative impact beyond its obese production’s dazzling fog.
In other welcome rock song craft news—that is, you know, pertaining to actual four-minute songs with inherent artistic value recorded with genuine acoustic instrumentation—New Jersey emo/folk natives The Front Bottoms chose the same late August Friday as Flowers and co. to unveil their seventh official studio album to the world, In Sickness & In Flames (out on Warner Music’s Fueled By Ramen). Standing as their most ambitious project yet, the record is a matured (?) concept journey through life’s tragicomic inertia, inevitably moulded by this year’s public health crisis impact and, as one has come to expect from the eclectic and exuberant slacker duo, growing up. In Sickness & In Flames undoubtedly ranks amongst The Front Bottom’s longest, heaviest, and sincerest exploits to date, with as many as twelve slyly-sequenced tracks, where even the snappiest ones run just short of four minutes of heart wrenched content.
Let us be honest, few other acts in the 2010s have been as consistent and accomplished in recounting late stage capitalism stream-of-consciousness cautionary tales for suburban twenty-somethings as the Woodcliff Lake-natives, not without an (un)healthy dose of self-deprecation and inconsolable incorrigibility. Their 2013 masterpiece Talon of the Hawk is pretty much a genre calling card at this point, and by some unconventional artistic twist of fate, their resilient semi-acoustic, heart-on-sleeve, spoken word open mic aesthetic has managed to do without a great deal of innovation—or even evolution—in order to retain their flavoursome and witty merits. Clearly, The Front Bottoms are still amongst the proudest torch bearers for legions of millennial simps, and their latest LP is a powerful if emotionally available and subdued budding everyday life account, casting an approaching new decade wide open as continued beacons of their stoic and earnest DIY underground milieu.
Songs-wise, less than the somewhat stale, phoned-in, and overcooked lead singles “everyone blooms” and “Fairbanks, Alaska“, it’s deeper cuts such as upbeat indie dance slapper “jerk” and the stern and austere lamenting ballad “the hard way” that both sound classic TFB and find them at their abundant best on this new project. It’s however the album’s B-side (or C and D sides, for y’all vinyl-maniac), taking off with the 90s alt rock/post-grunge firestarter “leaf pile” and wrapping up with the shivering and gorgeous piano closer “make way“, that makes for the most focused, captivating, and compelling back-to-back half hour of music that lead vocalist/guitarist Brian Sella and drummer Mat Uychich have put out to date. Accept this early and unsolicited hot Twitter take as receipt legitimising said acknowledgement. Elsewhere on the record’s side B, “new song d” at number eight on the tracklist is a most serious contender for their all time best song, period—whereas “bus beat” is ridiculously packed with hooks (“I do it like that because that’s the way my baby likes it“) and even the aforementioned “Fairbanks, Alaska” sounds righteous and well-placed amidst such songwriting delicacy.
The Killers and The Front Bottoms represent a tale of two rock and roll cities, both with their respective blistering blessing and crushing curses. One is made of a big, loud, and flashy razzmatazz, banking on glamorous superficial appearances and romanticised bella vita. It’s tempting and sensorially appealing, it sucks you in by way of its luring chassis and swaying halo effect, yet upon prolonged exposure it might render it mundanely hard to swallow all at once. The other one the brick and mortar manifestation of struggle, defiance, and acceptance—laminated by rusty copper-looking buildings and never quite succeeding in shaking off those blue-collar last smoke residuals, be it from cigarettes or a flickering pyre. These musical cities are adjacent. They neighbour one another, and go as far as exchanging forms of underbelly trade flows and unhealthy next-door syndrome. The grass might always be greener on the other side, but with Imploding the Mirage and In Sickness & In Flames the real optimum lives in the dialectic interaction of these two vivid exponents of the state of the modern rock and roll art.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2020, Island Records
THE FRONT BOTTOMS
2020, Fueled By Ramen