Frontier Ruckus – Sitcom Afterlife
Quite Scientific, 2014
Frontier Ruckus’s third album—Eternity of Dimming—was my favorite album of last year. While I try to make it clear that my year-end lists are entirely subjective and that I’m not trying to isolate the “Best” album of any given year, I objectively think Eternity of Dimming was the best record of 2013. In his songwriting Ruckus front man Matthew Milia excavated the memories of his youth with precision and detail so as to capture them forever before they faded away. It’s a behemoth spanning two discs, sporting a running time over two hours, and boasting a lyrics sheet with more than 5000 words. I listened obsessively, savored the detail and twists of phrase, and appreciated the beauty of a songwriter digging down to his very core.
I feel like I’m not ready for that album’s follow up, but it’s here, and it’s great! I know it’s great because I’ve spent the six or so go throughs I’ve had with Sitcom Afterlife trying to poke holes in it. It’s not as intensive as Eternity of Dimming—and honestly, that album was a once-in-a-discography kind of thing—and the comparatively brisk runtime makes the songs so much easier to digest. There’s also a lot of rock solid growth on display here. The band pushes past the folky, bluegrassy blend of their roots into pure pop territory and the results are a thrill. Horns lurk around every corner and give Milia’s as-usual magnificent songwriting a new kind of backbone. The songs are fuller, richer, and overall it sounds like a band clicking into a new mode with confidence.
The most drastic change is the re-addition of band member Anna Burch on harmonies, which provide equal amounts of loveliness and tenderness. If you’ve seen videos of Burch and Milia singing together, their chemistry is obvious, and their harmonies are a big part of why Sitcom Afterlife is such a worthy successor to such a hugely ambitious record. The whole band’s chemistry is obvious, goddamnit. It’s mind blowing that they are still toiling in obscurity, because the music is just too damn good. It just blows my mind that they’ve released four records, each better than the last, each brimming with these gorgeous lyric sheets and forward-thinking Americana, each a testament to a specific time and place that is really every time and place. Just listen to David Jones' outrageous kinetic banjo line that serves as the spine to the album’s thunderous centerpiece “Crabapples in the Century’s Storm.” Where else is that happening?
Frontier Ruckus established themselves on Eternity of Dimming, but Sitcom Afterlife is definitive proof that this band should be your new favorite band. Their songbook is a treat and their following their evolution has been one of the most severe joys I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing in the last couple years. If they don’t catch on, oh well. I’ll just sit here thinking about how the big, cyclical closer “A&W Orange and Brown” is their “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” and making a mythology for this little Michigan quartet and enjoying their music with the utmost satisfaction.
Listen to the album in its entirety over at Under the Radar.