I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with Frontier Ruckus. From the first captivating notes of the band's latest cd, Deadmalls and Nightfalls, I knew I was listening to something special but at the minute-and-twenty-four-second mark, when everything - banjo, vocals, trumpet, saw - comes together, something enrapturing happens and it feels slightly revelatory.
So where exactly had these boys been all my life? Well, it ends up that they'd been in my own backyard all along, which is strange because I'd never heard hide nor hair concerning Frontier Ruckus until this summer, despite the fact that the band came together not more than 30 minutes from where I grew up. Before I moved to Chicago, I was fairly well versed in the Detroit scene, spending a great majority of my youth at The Magic Stick and The Blind Pig, venues the band has played at more than a few times.
After memorizing the entirety of the band's third cd over the course of a week, I poured over their back catalog and came out of my own personal Frontier Ruckus-palooza feeling that being unaware of their organic, evocative folk had robbed me of something great that would have been terribly influential on my early 20's.
Combining the influences of the beloved indie rock of yore (Jeff Mangum, anyone?) with understated folk tragedy, lead singer Matthew Milia comes across vocally as a just-as-unhinged, slightly-more-boyish version of Okkervil River's Will Sheff. And we all know how I feel about Will Sheff! (Hint: Very positively.)
Milia's prowess as a wordsmith shines through on nearly every song, perfectly complimented by the at turns lilting and enrapturing banjo of bandmate Davey Jones, but the standout here as far as I'm concerned is "Springterror", one of the more heartwrenchingly earnest tracks on Deadmalls and Nightfalls. If you can make it through the lyrics "If I knew which part of me was wax, I would try to truncate it" without feeling even the least bit affected, you might not have a heart.
Punctuated by Neutral Milk Hotel influenced horns with a heavy leaning towards Okkervil River's masterpiece Black Sheep Boy, Deadmalls and Nightfallsis steeped in Michigan lore, perfectly encapsulating both the remarkable singularity of the state and the isolating loneliness I've always felt when returning home. The record plays out for me like the time I skedaddled north ways with a bruised heart to reassess my life and I imagine if Deadmalls and Nightfalls had been out during that point in my existence, it would have climbed to the tip top of my last.fm chart within a week or less. Referencing everything from small towns I know far too well to trips to Canada to a billboard on the side of I-96, I am of the belief that whenever I'm feeling a wave of homesickness come over me, Deadmalls and Nightfallswill be my go-to disc for soundtracking my sadness.
That isn't to say that you have to have ties to the mittens to appreciate Frontier Ruckus. In fact, all you have to do is appreciate solid, multilayered, impeccably composed music. People with a preference for attention to detail will be particularly taken by the new standard Frontier Ruckus has set for themselves as each of Deadmalls and Nightfalls' 12 tracks is shown just as much affection by the band as the last.
Take note, ladies and gents - Frontier Ruckus just might be the new face of indie folk.