Quite Scientific Records, 2013. Frontier Ruckus: http://www.frontierruckus.com/
Frontier Ruckus’ new album, Eternity of Dimming, follows their earlier work including I Am The Water You Are Pumping EP, The Orion Songbook, Way Upstate and the Crippled Summer, pt. 1, and Deadmalls & Nightfalls. The band was formed in 2003, near Detroit, Michigan by Matthew Milia and Dan Winston. It would be five years between the band’s inception and the debut full-length, but that’s still doing pretty well considering Frontier Ruckus began while in high school. Their sound has been described as similar to the Bowerbirds, or “Anti-Mumford.” Neither of those descriptions really fits this band completely, but it gives one an idea of what to expect.
Eternity of Dimming brings a more mature lyrical style to Frontier Ruckus’ sound, although they keep the essential qualities of their music, while also having some more avant garde or experimental selections. This is not your grandma’s folk, and it’s not your hipster cousin’s indie, either. Vocally driven, front-porch pickers based in suburbia with simple, honest stories tell Every Man’s history. Most songs consist of acoustic guitar, banjo, and singing that sounds like it’s into one of those old tinny-sounding Shure microphones. The group hails from Michigan and while, as a life-long Ohioan and OSU alumna, I typically avoid all things Michigan, I have to give credit where credit is due, and mad props to Frontier Ruckus this time around. The twenty tracks could seem daunting and possibly over-reaching for some albums, but Frontier Ruckus manages to pull it off on this one.
I have to admit, the first listen through, I accidentally set it to shuffle and heard I Buried You So Deep which set me off on a bad note for this album, and did make it difficult to listen to and review (#firstworldproblems #operatorerror). Stories of a man killing a lover strike a chord in me, and I had to mentally push past that to do my job, but I managed. Technically, the song is solid and hearkens thematically and stylistically to traditional murder ballads such as Pretty Polly.
When played as the artists intended, Eyelashes helps the listener settle into the melodic, sweet rhythm of this album easily. Black Holes is slightly more up-tempo, and introduces some strong percussion elements and more complicated playing. Black Holes ends in a bit of a black hole itself, seeming to suddenly disappear into a shadow of the body of the song. Thermostat establishes a musical formula to the album, and lacks much flavor until the three minutes in, where there’s a beautiful violin piece, but that gets eaten up again by the main theme after about thirty seconds. The last ten seconds do end uniquely, though, and help create an audio break between songs. Birthday Girl is more morose and minor key, with hints of the angst-filled nineties. Junk-Drawer Sorrow has the album’s standard sound, but lain over what sounds like a musical saw? Black-Ice World simply sounds like winter for those suffering Seasonal Affective Disorder- slow, tinny, discordant, drawn out, and blue.
After a break for the next song, Granduncles of St. Lawrence County was a more cheerful boost, and made me think of Garrison Keilor’s Norwegian bachelor farmers; the song sounded like something that would be on Prairie Home Companion (which is good, as I like PHC). Bike Trail starts out with clean drums playing in the other parts, then proceeded to roll and bump along like a road bike on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail. I Met Rebecca melds into the title track without much notice, but the title track itself is a solid and catchy in a spooky way. The instrumentation of Eternity of Dimming is more rock and less folk. If the Sun Collapse returns to more light-hearted picking. Nightmares of Space walks the line between Twilight Zone fan-works and music to accompany a silent film. Surgery is one of the few pieces with more than one singer, and benefits from this accompaniment, along with a bit of horn. If the Summer is lyrical and mellow, and turns from one thing into another time after time, just like summers in Ohio turning from dry and dusty to a drenching thunderstorm and then calm, all in a matter of minutes. A gruff throat-clearing sound starts In Protection of Sylvan Manor, which is far more family-house than manor-house, reminding us that every home is someone’s castle. The vocal effects on this piece are enjoyable and the lines speak of normal teenage life. There’s no obvious break between Dealerships and the previous, and the two again run together. On one hand, I like the concept of an album as a work of art that this promotes, but it seems out of place in this Eternity of Dimming, which isn’t a live album, and isn’t a concept album, but pulls from both styles, giving the feeling of a “jack of all trades, master of none.” On its own, I prefer Dealerships to In Protection of Sylvan Manor because of the symphonic swells and dissonant ending. Funeral Family Flowers cuts its own path from other songs, and does that well, with an old radio tone to it. Open It Up again employs the intentional break, and opens with camp-fire guitar licks. The simplicity of this tune makes it one of the stronger songs, in my mind. Careening Catalog Immemorial is a gorgeous final piece, combining the better parts of the whole album- simple instrumentation, multiple vocals, and compelling stories.
All in all, Eternity of Dimming is solid, and if you have an afternoon, it’s a great critical listen to really get into. After that first listen, I recommend breaking it into more than one playlist if you’re listening digitally. There are songs for every preference on here, but there’s also songs that everyone will dislike. Have a try at it first, then pick and choose what you like, and leave the rest to mix it up on occasion, or to rediscover every once in a while.
Personnel: Matthew Milia, David Jones, Zachary Nichols, Ryan Etzcorn.
Tracks: Eyelashes, Black Holes, Thermostat, Birthday Girl, Junk-Drawer Sorrow, The Black-Ice World, I Buried You So Deep, Granduncles of St. Lawrence County, Bike Trail, I Met Rebecca, Eternity of Dimming, If the Suns Collapse, Nightmares of Space, Surgery, If the Summer, In Protection of Sylvan Manor, Dealerships, Funeral Family Flowers, Open It Up, Careening Catalog Immemorial