Frontier Ruckus


Loose Music

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Apple Music

Frontier Ruckus announce new album "On the Northline", out February 16 via Loose Music

For as much that can happen with the passing of years, sometimes more happens in an instant. Frontier Ruckus has dedicated themselves to cataloging the impact of imperceptible, everyday moments, crafting a singular artform of their own making with gorgeous orchestral folk pop arrangements and songwriter Matthew Milia’s complex lyrical observations on the mundane and the holy. The years following the group’s fifth album; 2017’s anxiously opulent Enter the Kingdom, have been big years. Their decade-plus of ceaseless touring was forcibly ended by the same global rerouting that affected everyone at the dawn of 2020, but as it played out, Milia was also walking a separate concurrent timeline where he truly found love, got married, and in due time became a father. Sixth album On the Northline was labored over as these bizarre and beautiful days played out, carefully built to act as a centrifuge for the scattered emotional states and flashes of joy, doubt, and gratitude that inspired it. The songs map the changes that come gradually but inevitably with age, but also illuminate how entire existences can shift with a glint of sun off the windshield, or in the time it takes to notice a stranger walk into the room.

The band’s longtime core members Milia, David Jones, and Zachary Nichols set up in the Ypsilanti home studio of musician and engineer Ben Collins, tracking to a Tascam 388 tape machine that died a slow death as the recording sessions burned on. Even with the occasional warbly artifacts that came with it, the analog character grew to become almost an additional band member in how much it brought out of the songs. The sounds are bold and direct, with foundations of bright acoustic guitars, dry drums, and Jones’ masterful banjo ornamented by soft sparkles of brass, singing saw, and other subtle sonics from multi-instrumentalist Nichols. The glowing fidelity of the production and the ever-budding arrangements evoke the same kind of internal worlds Sufjan Stevens and Neutral Milk Hotel designed, and stacks of pristine vocal harmonies radiate a gorgeous melancholy akin to Elliott Smith or Judee Sill. At first, On the Northline might feel cozy and lived-in, but closer inspection shows every room is meticulously organized, spotlessly clean, and drawn on intentional angles. There are secret rooms behind the bookshelves, messages written on the banding of the furniture or on the backs of picture frames.

Because of Milia’s near-constant songwriting practice, work on the album began as soon as the last one was finished, if not before. This ultimately led to songs that trace a non-linear development that bounces back and forth between misanthropic, lonely-hearted searching and the bliss of self-actualization that came with deeper commitment. Drastically different emotional perspectives appear from song to song. Summertime lethargy melts into smiling power pop on “Everywhere But Beside You,” a sighing daydream about meeting someone perfect projected from within a restless bachelorhood. Minor-key burners like “I’m Not the Boy” and “Swore I Had a Friend” crackle with uncertainty and turmoil, while more grounded tunes like “Mercury Sable” track the progress of a relationship that brings hard-fought contentment. Particularly touching is “First Song for Lauren,” which Milia wrote on tour just after meeting and falling in love with his wife Lauren. His miserable missing of the person he already knew he’d spend his life with comes through unfiltered, and the iPhone demo he recorded in a friend’s living room and sent to his sweetheart is the same version included on the album.

The blurry geographies and dense, personal iconography that made previous Frontier Ruckus albums so unique is still alive throughout On the Northline, but it’s there to serve a larger transformation than before. Having grown organically but single-mindedly since Jones and Milia’s teenage days, the band rode the waves of independent music through a short-lived roots rock resurgence in the 2010s, knocking on the door to larger fame a few times with appearances at festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza or on the main stage at End of the Road, but mostly living the life of a hard-working band who was grateful to connect with everyone they encountered along the way. The feeling of so many long drives and nights spent sleeping at sketchy hotels finds its way into these songs, as does the overpowering humbling of amassing a fanbase so devoted they’d get lyric tattoos and take trips to Michigan to visit the landmarks mentioned in songs with the thoroughness of an atlas index. What also comes through, perhaps for the first time, is a new sense of self-acceptance, an appreciation of the deeper peace and true intimacy of earnest devotion. With On the Northline, Frontier Ruckus transcends. It’s where they become more than just an excellent band or a place to put songs, but a document of lives in a perpetual state of evolving. These twelve songs represent an honest, unselfconscious assessment of emotional growth, and in that, they’re more personal (and more powerful) than anything the band has made before.