Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Without knowing it, Matthew Milia owns you early on into a Frontier Ruckus song. His meticulous wordplay and the sumptuous choices of melody and the rising and falling undulations of his tree-top-pitched voice create a landscape that you get stuck in like a tar pit covered in discarded wads of chewing gum and thick, pine sap. The lead singer of this Michigan-based band of singing saws and old, abandoned tin shack aesthetics skillfully plots his storylines and still finds it possible to heap in all of the most minute details - colors, settings, scents, sighs and nibbles - and still make them all fitting and necessary. It's as if you've been shoved unexpectedly off the end of a pier - where you were admiring the fading sun's light clipping off the water's surface, just moments ago - and now you're dipping into the ice cold blue and all of your senses are now working overtime.
But this all happens without the panic or the complications. It comes in an overpowering sweep of emotion and sensations that don't blur together, but rather hold each other's hands and make for a new body. Milia makes many new bodies with his songs, taking pieces from here and pieces from there to make an altogether new object or sight that he then delights in describing lyrically, with wordy, but pleasing and paced prose. It's almost as if, were the guy feeling the need to describe the movements and the attentive eyes of a fox or the subtle swaying of a road-ditch full of full-bodied cattails, he would conjure a new thought in his mind of what a fox or a cattail mean to him, or should look like, and then places them to confront his own vision of what the wind will do to them. It's that unique and that different.
Their songs take on the peculiarities of the small Neutral Milk Hotel catalog (in as much as Milia bears a striking vocal resemblance to one Jeff Mangum and he shares that drifter's take on subjects) but do so with a wide-eyed sort of astonishment of nature in the same way that a country kid would have while driving or walking down Las Vegas Boulevard or around Times Square at any hour of the night. In this instance though, it's taking a country kid out into the countryside and having the same kind of reaction rumble and tear through them as if there were some kind of an awakening taking place. No line is about what you think it would be about in relationship to the line before it and every bit of descriptive flavor is more wonderful and in many ways more sensual than the one before.
Frontier Ruckus songs are loaded with so many intangible glories that you start to wonder if you own mind wasn't seeing enough as you traveled down the interstates or over county roads. When you see a Shell station in the night, you don't think of it "pleasantly glowing," you just think, "Looks, like it's open." You'd never describe it so romantically. You don't think about a return to the land of milk and honey, as if it's something that's already been touched and tasted - the way that Milia does. There is a lot of the late Jerome David Salinger in the way that he writes lyrics. He thinks like the plots and characters of "Nine Stories" thought and there are beautiful nuances in every song, including these three sparkling new ones taped for this session. He sees a scene like one from "A Perfect Day For Bananafish" and maybe drums up the line, "Oh the bathers, oh the toweling." It hits like a weathered bit of observation, something former and metropolitan - as if it's dipped in sophistication. It has a different skin and it all sounds like a sad sweetness that we could never turn from, nor would we ever want to.
*Essay originally published February, 2010
Frontier Ruckus Official Site