Review: Sitcom Afterlife, Frontier Ruckus

Alex Nye

If you are looking for the American Folk that popularized Frontier Ruckus, you will be out of luck on their new album. That sound is eternally dimming and what is left is a polished rock album.

That is not to say Frontier Ruckus’s fourth studio album “Sitcom Afterlife” is not great, it is simply following the pop sound that the group has been gradually building toward.

Frontier Ruckus

The group’s roots lay in the Metro Detroit area, where they formed back in 2003 when lead singer Matthew Milia and banjo player David Winston Jones attended high school. The group is rounded out by Zachary Nichols who plays trumpet, the melodica and the musical saw and Anna Burch singing harmony vocals.

In 2012, as part of NMU’s “Northern Nights” series, Frontier Ruckus performed to a large crowd in Jamrich Hall.

I was lucky enough to have been in the audience that night and was blown away by this eclectic group of musicians.

I came to appreciate the musical saw that Nichols plays and I am happy to say that it still appears in the new album, albeit sporadically.

The musical saw creates a haunting howling wind sound and can first be heard on the fourth track of the album “Very Well” but is the centerpiece on their fifth song “Crabapples in the Century’s Storm.”

This is arguably the best and most Frontier Ruckus song             on the album.

The first three songs on “Sitcom Afterlife” are pure pop and throwaways.

The middle three are pure Frontier Ruckus and mixes their folk sound with rock. The last four lean towards that pop sound again. Milia’s songs are generally poetic and rich in lyrical density. Although this album is poppy he does not stray from what he does best.

The band also doesn’t stray from their Michigan roots either. The lines Milia sings often are full of references to cities and landmarks that people of Michigan would be familiar with.

“I still see your cheeks so red in Pontiac summer,” Milia croons.

He also describes scenes that take place in The Sylvan Lake CVS, Rochester, The Silverdome, Alpena, Ypsilanti, 8 Ball Saloon, Chesaning and the Stadium Citgo.

Frontier Ruckus makes music that speaks to the mundane Midwest life and they don’t abandon that with this album.

Instead the mundane becomes elevated and makes its way into the chorus of many of their songs.

On “Crabapples in the Century’s Storm” Milia sings, “Drinking Shell station wine, beneath the Sylvan Lake willow.”

I didn’t love this album, nor did I hate it. There are plenty of moments, especially in the first three songs, where I cringed. After listening to the album a few times through my cringes became less extreme and I began to enjoy what Frontier Ruckus is trying to do here. The group is trying to evolve its sound and polish up the instruments, which they do.

My expectations going in may have been too high or I expected too much folk on an album that is lacking that sound, but stepping back from it I began to appreciate it more. The only thing I long for is Jones brilliant banjo playing to be more forefront in the songs. This album is not stellar but it is exactly what is to be expected from a group like Frontier Ruckus, Michigan songs from a Michigan band.

Give the album a go and let Milia paint pictures of familiar scenes that any Midwesterner  can enjoy.