Frontier Ruckus comes from that snowy peninsular state called Michigan, and the landscape of their home state seems to be their muse. Their songs reference Michigan cities like Pontiac, Detroit and Ann Arbor, and their sound evokes the great lakes, pine forests and piles of snow that distinguish their homeland. These Michigan men make a rootsy noise with acoustic guitar, banjo, brushed drums, horns, melodica and even the singing saw.
The singing saw creates that ghostly whir you hear in several of Frontier Ruckus’ songs and it lends an eerie edge to their acoustic sound. This eeriness is laced through their foresty acoustic soundscapes on Dead Malls & Nightfall, their second and most recent LP. The cover of the album depicts an abandoned strip mall disappearing into a whitewashed landscape, and the music is accordingly spare yet picturesque. Mark Deming of Allmusic says, “The literate angst and spare, elegant sound of 2010’s Dead Malls & Nightfalls… suggests a middle ground between The Palace Brothers and Sufjan Stevens, but the effect feels more like the shared experiences of Midwest brethren than any conscious borrowing.”
Frontier Ruckus’ roomy folk allows ample space for lead singer and songwriter Matthew Milia’s poetic lyrics. Milia’s voice is clear and upfront, and it should be, because his way with words and images deserves an attentive listen. Consider these lyrical lines from their song “Adirondack Amish Holler:”
Adirondacka, harmonicas were blowing through the fairgrounds, darling;
Life blows their scary sounds on us;
But that is why the spirits fly in Adirondacka.
Frontier Ruckus draws their sound and lyrics from the landscape that is all around them, and I don’t think they will run out of inspiration any time soon.
- Ben Dixon