Album Review of “Enter the Kingdom” by Frontier Ruckus
About halfway through my review of Frontier Ruckus’s previous album, 2014’s Sitcom Afterlife, I established a visual device to help elucidate my feelings on their discography. This device, which I shall now call “The Frontier Ruckus Verbosity-Timbre Matrix,” or the FRVTM for short, charts every Frontier Ruckus album on two axes: lyrical density vs. lyrical directness, and pop-rock vs Americana folk. Largely subjective categories, of course (something can be both dense and direct, for example), but it helped me mentally chart out their progression.
If I were to put Frontier Ruckus’s new album, Enter the Kingdom, on the FRVTM, it would be somewhere around the direct middle, at the intersection between the two axes, at the point of no extremes or extraneous excursions. That is to say: it’s not particularly prolix, yet it maintains the usual serpentine half-rhymes and slowly-unfurling narrative passages; it’s not totally folky, yet it’s primarily acoustic and banjo-driven; it’s not pop-rock like the last one, but it dabbles in keyboards shoved up alongside orchestration and a few other neat little twists.
The Updated FRVTM
In other words, it’s an album from a band in their groove, a band newly-streamlined and resolute. Their subject matter is once more the hallucinatory universe of memory and the past; this time it’s more squarely aimed at bleak accounts of childhood, when you were breaking into the “deserted megachurch” to play “the broken rec-room Sega/ like it’s research.” Childhood is ached after, eternally lost, sanctified and reviled, tinged with a kind of banal emptiness. It’s a confusing portrait of malaise and nostalgia.
Frontman Matthew Milia’s commitment to his purple-y puppy-love paeans of lost innocence is as stalwart as ever. There’s a kind of swooning, intense romanticism to his lyrics that some might find a bit too moony for their palate; in this album alone he manages to sentimentalize searching for a job on craigslist, an e-cigarette, and a curly fry. But it’s impossible to knock his sense of craft. The dude can write a good line and has a great ear for vowel sounds: “Holiday errands/ the piling gerunds in the snow/ now that my parents/ really got no place to go.” Oh, and, “My galaxy is a fallacy after all.”
Enter the Kingdom is the most “Frontier Ruckus” album they’ve recorded to date. There’s no huge surprises or mysterious derivations, but there’s a comfort food gratification to this album. New fans it will not make, but fans of Milia’s troubadour-like style will finish it satisfied, wistful, faintly nostalgic, and with several insta-classics and new favorites (“Our Flowers Are Still Burning” and “Gerunds” and “Gauche”) in tow.