Frontier Ruckus

Sitcom Afterlife

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On their fourth album, Frontier Ruckus walk a fine line between alt-country and indie pop; 2014's Sitcom Afterlife finds the band easing back a bit on the twangy textures and folkie undercurrents of their earlier work and adding just a bit more studio polish. Zachary Nichols' keyboards and horns give these songs a widescreen sheen that's a far cry from the often dour tones of the group's first two albums, and the clank of the drum machines on "Very Well" and "Down in the Morning We Thought We'd Never Lose" undercut the homey sound of the acoustic guitars. But vocalist and principal songwriter Matthew Milia hasn't given up much of his angst, and to judge from his lyrics he's not having much luck with relationships, which may be bad news for him but has certainly given him plenty of inspiration. Milia stirs up a wealth of vivid, idiosyncratic imagery on these songs ("Crabapples in the Century's Storm" alone is packed with more detail than most writers can cram into a full album), and the sharp force of his reedy voice only adds to the power of the tunes. As always, Milia and his bandmates are stubborn, passionate regionalists -- no one outside of Michigan is ever going to write a song that includes the word "Dequindre" -- but as much as they love the Mitten State, on Sitcom Afterlife, Frontier Ruckus capture the universal aches of twenty-something life as the romanticism of youth gives way to the trickier realities of adulthood, made all the more troubling in a time and place where just getting by is not always a given. Sitcom Afterlife shows that Frontier Ruckus are taking on a more eclectic musical approach without losing touch with the qualities that made their previous work so strong, and this confirms they're one of the most interesting bands currently doing business in the Midwest.

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