The boys are back in town. Though, if you’re listening to the fistfuls of broken images and banjo rifts spread among Frontier Ruckus’s brand of Michigan, folk Americana, you’d be convinced they never left.
Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
Tonight marks Frontier Ruckus’s return to the The Ark as the group kicks off its “Eternity of Dimming” tour, promoting the upcoming 2013 release of the highly anticipated third full-length album that singer-songwriter for the band Matthew Milia described as “the culmination of a trilogy that began with The Orion Songbook and Deadmalls & Nightfalls,” their previous albums.
Frontier Ruckus started in 2002 when two Bloomfield Hills, Mich. high school students, Milia and banjoist for the group David W. Jones, began working together. Originally the duo had a slight musical rivalry, but it soon grew into friends and collaborators that brought a strong energy to the early days of Frontier Ruckus, explained Milia, which never left. After Jones, a year Milia’s senior, began studying at the University, Milia would drive up to practice with him in his dorm room.
“U of M was really our first college experience as a band and our first foray into some tenuous professionalism,” Milia said. “We played at Amer’s in the Union and out in the diag; back then we dreamed of playing at the Blind Pig or The Ark.”
While Milia studied at Michigan State University, “Frontier Ruckus” grew in size and musical maturity as the band continued to develop its repertoire and reputation, explained Milia. The Band currently consists of two other members Ryan Etzcorn and Zachary Nichols, both of whom Milia met in East Lansing.
In 2008, the group’s first full-length album, The Orion Songbook, not only represented a sort of artistic thesis for the group — as Milia explained — but also garnered wide and abundant praise from critics. Allmusic reviewer Chris Berggren wrote, “The Orion Songbook is about as good a debut as a band can hope for,” while Aaron Shaul, a music critic for Detroit’s MetroTimes, wrote, “this debut establishes the group as already one of the very best sounds to come out of Michigan this entire decade.”
2010 sophomore album, Deadmalls & Nightfalls, received similar praise from an even wider audience. After nearly two years of touring, the band is getting ready to release its third album, a double CD with 20 songs to be released in January.
Milia explained that whereas The Orion Songbook was poetic with broad strokes and Darkmalls & Nightfalls represented a step towards more fixity and itemization, Eternity of Dimming is, from a writing perspective, the most hyperbolically specific.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the record,” Milia said. “In terms of personal mythology and lyricism, it’s a new height for me. Sifting through the abundance of tangential memories, dense short stories and scenes, and then distilling them into a mammoth work like this is cathartic.”
Though the record has many imagistic motifs, Milia explained that one of the most pervasive is the catalog of ’90s merchandise written into many of the songs.
“The clunky, heavy metaphor of ’90s technology, like a copy machine or one of those huge computer monitors, just sitting there with all its obsolescence,” Milia said. “My childhood was the ’90s and I still have all these useless things from that splendid time. All those weighty objects are now anchors of a dead era, so it’s a very bittersweet nostalgia.”
But Milia’s lyricism is not the only aspect of Frontier Ruckus that brings the nostalgic requiem to the record. Milia explained that every member of the band brought something much more intense and diverse.
“Sonically, it’s a different vibe on this record,” Milia said, “It’s got a lot of jangly electric guitar — à la The Birds or Big Star — along with keyboarding from the ’80s and ’90s. Pulsating and unpredictable percussion along with organs give the record a musicality we worked really hard on.”
Rather than describing the album’s sound as distinct from previous works, Milia explained that all the elements that came to define Frontier Ruckus are still present in the record, only expanded upon as they maintain a connection to their roots.
That essential fixity in the music gives the Michigan shows a shared relatability, which Milia explained, makes them the best of the tour.
“There is a specificity to our music, since it is rooted in a locality and mythologization of ‘home,’ which purveys through the whole Michigan landscape,” Milia said.