Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
We're nearing the tail end of the season in which we're all as unsafe as we can be. We're forced into situations where we let great Mother Nature have as much control over us as we ever let her. We have places to be and even when travel is made treacherous, when the outside conditions are turned life-threateningly cold, icy and dicey, we decide that we'll brave it. We will go anyway, for we always think that we have more of a say in our fates than we likely do. We tend to be prepared for very little, even when we think we are. We think we can handle a vehicle that begins sliding into a telephone pole, or when a semi jackknives just in front of us on the interstate and we suddenly see ourselves hurtling toward a horrific catastrophe, a net loss. Tis the season for the accidents of gnarled up metal and rubber, of unavoidable fatalities and frailty that turn everyone into somber, white-knuckled rubberneckers because all of us know that we've been THIS close to that outcome ourselves, but we survived to tell the tale of the horrible mess alongside the road. It's with this thought in-hand that we approach the work of Michigan band, Frontier Ruckus, a group that's capable of making a warm summer day seem as dangerous as a whiteout or a stretch of road covered in invisible, deadly black ice.
Lead singer and songwriter Matthew Milia injects his songs with a wondrous bent, even as they bounce through the stirrings of a restless, sleepless mind. He must find himself exhausted all the time, curious how he gets himself into these nights of wild, wide eyes and with a heartbeat that borders on being out-of-control and something to worry about. He's a daydreamer and one of both doom and sunshine, all evident in equal measures, often holding hands in what feels like a very natural way, as if the two sides of the coin have married. The stories that he writes and which are brought to life by banjo/dobro player David W. Jones, multi-instrumentalist Zahary Nichols, and drummer Ryan Etzcorn are examples of the scary parts of storms, the parts where you can't help but flush and start sweating a little bit. They are about the times when we realize that we've got the odds stacked against us and yet there's the sensation that the weathermen warn us about on these winter afternoons, where the sun is out there and it's bright as fuck, the snows have melted away, the grasses are a brownish green and it looks like it could be nice out. But it's not. It frigid out there and we've been tricked. It just looks nice and it feels nice from inside. Damn it.
Milia, with his dusty floor rumblings and his incandescent shudders, forms a picture of life as that majestic question mark that should be feared and flattered, when necessary. There are so many moments where the characters in his songs get cut down at the knees, where they're wobbly and on the ropes only to slow down long enough to make enough sense of the chaos to feel some temporary peace with it, enough to allow them to go on. Milia sings, "In the black, we all look so dim/And the night has a yellow, gray glow/It's as though the whole world's my halo," on "Pontiac, the Nightbrink," from the group's latest album, "Deadmalls and Nightfalls," and as he continues, our feelings of being defeated or insignificant don't feel that way any longer. They just feel like the kinds of terrors we're supposed to have - the good stress that might put hair on our chests or just years on us. We're supposed to get old, right?
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