I don’t know if this is a nostalgia thing for me, or perhaps something deeper and more insidious, but one of my most obsessive phases of music consisted of, for two straight years, listening to every song The Front Bottoms had ever put out on repeat. The Front Bottoms are the king, queen, and court jester of using voicemails in their songs, and something about it always resonated with me. Perhaps it was the addition of other perspectives into what is arguably the very tunnel-vision experience of listening to an album — or, perhaps, the misdirected analog joy of this late-20s millennial (ew).
Sonia Espiritu places largely-unedited voicemails directly into her songs with aplomb throughout her latest EP, Comfort Zone. Espiritu doesn’t otherwise remind me of The Front Bottoms per se – a “comfort zone inspo” playlist she made, featuring contemporaries like beabadoobee and Mannequin Pussy alongside classic ’90s bands like The Cranberries and Green Day, as well as “Long Lungs” by Playing the Bay alum Kevin Nichols are more telling of her sonic vocabulary – but I found myself enjoying Comfort Zone much more than I thought I would based on the vaguely-defeatist descriptors from her Bandcamp: “I am unemployed ok” reads the singular commentary on this album, and the artist bio is “she’s aight.”
The EP is far beyond “aight.” The songs are clever and interesting, with lo-fi production that sounds, as The Front Bottoms’ fans used to so lovingly say of their earliest work, “like they were recorded on a toaster.” Espiritu’s lyrics manage to be heartfelt without being twee; the title track finds her bemoaning, “It’s not fair/I’m getting gray hairs.” The ascending guitars and crashing percussion on this track would be great live, as would one of Espiritu’s clearest line deliveries: “I wish I could process five stages of grief/in as little as five days a week.”
“Comfort Zone” is arguably my favorite track because of its definite dance potential, but “Triage” is a close second, with its extended voicemail interlude (!!!). There is something like a voicemail book-ending the first track, “You Hate Me, Right?” But it sounds a little less impromptu than the layered messages that create a kind of false bridge for “Triage.” “Hey dipshit,” begins the first message, “Calling to tell you you need to get over that piece of shit,” before other voices come in – including one that seems to be from the piece of shit himself – woven together, becoming almost like instruments themselves as opposed to the Greek chorus they truly are. Though the messages may be harsh, and Espiritu’s resistance strong, that doesn’t mean she isn’t grateful. “Thanks for taking me out/thanks for taking me,” she sings by the song’s end, led out with some ’90s rock strumming.
“3 Things” makes for a nice close to an EP that feels like an unfinished story as Espiritu admits, “I don’t trust you/I don’t care for you/the third is that/I’m the world’s biggest liar.” I have to say, this EP is far from the worst thing that can come from a lie, and I am supremely looking forward to what Espiritu can do when she gets the chance to retire that toaster.
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