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Frontier Ruckus - Enter the Kingdom

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 3 / 4 / 2017

Frontier Ruckus - Enter the Kingdom
Label: Loose Music
Format: CD


Brooding and lyrical Americana on fifth album from critically acclaimed Michigan-based group Frontier Ruckus

Speaking to Pennyblackmusic in 2013, Frontier Ruckus’ singer and lyricist Matthew Milia made a strident case for making albums that were intentionally self-indulgent. His band had just made a sprawling, twenty track double album, full of complex imagery and obscure references to earlier songs. They toured the UK several times that year, and, while Frontier Ruckus demanded a lot of new fans, they offered plenty to anyone prepared to give them extra attention. In that interview, however, they hinted that they wouldn’t be repeating the exercise on their next record. 2014’s ‘Sitcom Afterlife’ was duly a trimmed down affair, and found the band a little road weary, with the songs moving away from Milia’s endless fascination with his own childhood nostalgia. It also found the band accused by some reviewers of retreading the same ground as earlier albums. Faced with what appeared to be a drop in critical acclaim, some bands would have hit the panic button. Frontier Ruckus, however, have ploughed on and this this fifth album finds them demonstrating that they can deliver a concise, compact record without diluting the impact of their music. Eleven tracks pass by in 36 minutes, but repeat listens reveal a record that has been carefully crafted to live long in the memory. Milia’s songwriting style has not radically changed much – he still packs as many words as he can into melodies that are part folk, part indie. Think Okkervil River, mid-period REM and the Mountain Goats. Underneath that, his band add strings, banjos and an assortment of keyboard sounds – a cultivated attempt at sounding ramshackle. Childhood nostalgia is still the overriding theme of Milia’s songwriting, but the context has changed. On ‘Eternity of Dimming’ we found him looking back for want of anything much to look forward to. Here, Milia is instead desperately attempting to hold on to fragments of his youth as reality bites. Old friends drift into city jobs, his youthful habits (binge watching 90's sitcoms) feel increasingly like inertia and, most disturbing of all, his father struggles to keep the family home as he loses his job. Where previous Frontier Ruckus releases appeared clouded by the haze of faded photographs, here it is the insertion of 2017 reference points that stands out. He sings about e-cigarettes and Craigslist, to cut through the nostalgic revelry. Frontier Ruckus are a genuine band (albeit one that Matthew Milia uses to extensively document his own life in minute detail), and as with previous records, it is the arrangements that lift these songs. For example, the bursts of jaunty trumpet, jangly guitar and jumpy banjo lift the otherwise unremarkable indie ditty ‘Positively Freaking’ into one of the record’s highpoints. At just two minutes long, it’s the best example band’s newfound ability to pack all the ideas that previously stretched out over two discs into around a single snappy melody. You’ll need to give it a few listens. On my first play, I was worried that it was a bit samey. It was only once I listened a bit more deeply that I started to notice the arrangements that set each song apart from one another. Even when the band are clearly on familiar territory, like on the two-part harmony of ‘Sarah Springtime’ (which could have fallen straight off any of their earlier records), they ensure that they at least make the song as good as the earlier variations on this theme. If you’ve made it through four previous Frontier Ruckus albums, you won’t be shocked by ‘Enter The Kingdom’. But, there is ample here to justify a return visit. If you are new to the band, this is as good an entry point as any. As soon as the irresistible chorus to ’27 Dollars’ kicks in on track three, you’ll know you’ve found yourself an accommodating home. The rest of the record needed more investment, but it is one I will keep going back to.

Track Listing:-
1 Visit Me
2 Gerunds
3 27 Dollars
4 Our Flowers Are Still Burning
5 Positively Freaking
6 Sarah Springtime
7 Since Milford
8 Gauche
9 Nothing Is Working
10 If You Can
11 Enter the Kingdom

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