‘Enter the Kingdom’ captures the uncertain feeling of knowing that the past is really past while the present remains adrift. It’s the return to your childhood house when it’s no longer your home, the look back on all the things you used to look forward to and the feeling that nothing is quite as certain as it used to be.
The Detroit power-pop/folk hybrid known as Frontier Ruckus came in to being almost fifteen years ago with roots in bluegrass country music, a genre able to tell stories of pain and sorrow at foot-stomping tempo – your wife left you, her brother shot you, you’ve no job, no money, one leg and you’re almost out of whisky but your guitar still sings like you’re celebrating.
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Re-locating that emotional dissonance from the wide expanses of the deep south to the living rooms of the suburbs, Frontier Ruckus’ problems aren’t so violent and neither is their music – instead they use their gentle, drifting sounds to explore the loss of their childhood and the lostness of adulthood.
For the band’s fifth album, Frontier Ruckus frontman Matthew Milia began with the memory of his father losing his job and having to rely on disability checks to get by. It’s a simple, personal scene which quietly speaks for the coming of age realisation that the world is not quite as straight forward as we thought – our parents are not invincible, our childhood homes are not untouchable and everything does not always work out for the best.
On a cultural level, it speaks for the failures of the American Dream that swept through suburban towns like those of Milia’s past when a generation discovered that a lifetime spent working hard and living smart did not prevent the rug from being ripped out from under them after all. Their faith in the system was violently destroyed, replaced with a distrust which their children would inherit.
From the airy opener ‘Visit Me’ to the jangling upbeat sounds of ‘Positively Freaking,’ the album is laced with goofy nineties slang and sitcom references as a nostalgic gaze back at younger days, a whole album which acts as “the series finale of their discontinued childhood”. Milia makes his words dance as elegantly as ever, his bookish vocabulary offering more than just lyrical cleverness. With nineties sitcoms as a continual touchstone, he juxtaposes their fuzzy warmth and nostaltic associations with the colder realities of the present, holding the two together in a way that never becomes sacharine or bitter but plays wistfully in the space between. Musically his words are matched perfectly by the band’s soft strings and the delicate vocal harmonies provided by Anna Burch.
In their 2016 album, Glass Animals took the same pop-culture layered look back in time to deliver a colourful, irreverent album that played with videogame sound effects and Flash Gordon references to intoxicating effect. Frontier Ruckus make a sweeter song from the same material. By rooting Enter the Kingdom in a particular moment from Milia’s own childhood, Frontier Ruckus draw a picture of the past that is both intimately, intricately his and universally relatable as a warm and melancholy remembrance of things past.
‘Enter the Kingdom’ is out on the 17th February via Loose.