As if having just endured a long, grey winter followed by a cold, rainy spring and emerging into the wonders of early summer, Frontier Ruckus sighs and settles in to look back on what they have passed through and forward to what will replace the past. Deadmalls and Nightfalls, the bands second full album, is all about the shedding and sloughing off, abandonment and change, and (as always seems the case with lyricist Matthew Milia) memory and place.
Now, I had some significant angst as the release of this album approached because I love their first album The Orion Songbook so much and my expectations were high. No worries. Just about everything that I liked about that first effort holds true here. Milia's lyrics are as lush and poetic as ever filled with nature and smells, creating landscapes jam packed with imagery--as if Walt Whitman is walking through Michigan with a guitar. The album opens with Milia buzzing and worrying that "all the vegetation in the settled world is stirring" which it will continue to do throughout the album.
Musically, the album is both similar to the first album . . . and not. I thought that the first album got a bit "musical saw" happy (a minor criticism), but that is clearly not an issue here. The songs rely on Milia's guitar and Davey Jones banjo to build songs around with various instruments from fiddle to horn to harmonium providing texture and giving individual songs a different feel. As I noted when the album started streaming I was particularly happy to hear Anna Burch singing harmonies on this album as her steely voice is a perfect counter part to Milia's lead vocals. Overall, the songs are extremely well constructed and the band (and the production of the band) is clearly getting a bit more subtle and sophisticated.
At the same time, I have to say that my first reaction was that I wanted a bit more, um, ruckus. In fact, I was surprised to see PopMatters suggest that the main difference between the first and second albums was the "diversity of pace and rhythm in almost every song." I agree that there is sophisticated constructions on many songs, including "Ontario" as PM notes, but overall this album has a much more even tempo to it than the first. It is also somewhat more laid back, particularly on the back half of the album which is considerably more subdued than the first album which has a number of wonderfully rambunctious songs throughout the album.
On the other hand, as I listen (and listen and listen) to Deadmalls & Nightfalls, each and every song grows on me and this is part of what makes this album such a strong album. It is wonderfully similar and different all at once and, ultimately, at least, an equal to the first album--which is to say, not to be missed!
Now, you can still hear the whole album over on the band's Facebook page, but let me put up a couple samples for you to hear. But let me make a special request here. I don't often get the chance to write about and recommend bands that many of you won't have heard of--but that is the case here. And that means that this is a band that both needs and deserves your support. So after you listen to some of their tunes, go buy this album and while you are at it, get their first one too.
Deciding which songs to share was difficult given how much I am enjoying the whole album. "Silverfishes" was always clearly going to be one I wanted to share as it is simply a classic Frontier Ruckus song. After that it is tempting to put something from the first half of the album which is so strong with the two opening tracks really just setting the stage perfectly. But let me switch gears a bit and share one of the wonderfully slow songs which also includes some nice fiddle work that makes you think that might be a feature we see more of in the future. These two tracks also come in the middle of the disc (tracks 5 and 7) so you get a sense of the shift between the front and back half of the disc.
Can't wait to listen to this one as we make the long drive up from DC, past Oriontown to the pines and birch of northern Michigan and the big lake.