Sitcom Afterlife is the 4th LP by Frontier Ruckus. Those on board since 2008’s The Orion Songbook have seen the band’s proverbial minivan careen wildly through a microcosmic Metro Detroit in sharpening detail. Culminating with 2013’s Eternity of Dimming—a double-album of 20 songs and some 5,600 words—the band’s ambition to extract universal life from personal minutiae had received its greatest indulgence. And now the strip malls have been numbered. The esoteric significance of each Dairy Queen is cataloged with hyper-specificity. In sanctifying a seemingly mundane suburban terrain, songwriter Matthew Milia’s obsessive nostalgia has taken on a robust physicality. It is within this established mythological landscape of dealerships and supermarket lots that the densely woven stories from Sitcom Afterlife occur. This time, though, it is the people and their relationships, rather than the places by which they are defined, that have regained the emotional focus.
Though Frontier Ruckus’ songbook has thoroughly dealt with the dissolution of love, Sitcom Afterlife’s narrator may be the first spokesman for the band made to sift through the vitriol and confusion of winding up on the losing end. Smartly contrasted with a decidedly classic-pop hookiness, the narrative unfolds across each song cohesively—reconstructing a relationship and its demise, its tender and nightmarish poles. Providing crucial emphasis to these manic swings are the elegant orchestrations of David Jones and Zachary Nichols. Jones accompanies the jangle-pop of Milia’s 12-string guitar with layers of inventive banjo tones that shimmer like 90s radio. Nichols, whose sonic experimentation has been a crucial ingredient in Frontier Ruckus’ DNA, mingles brass and synth warmth with whirling singing-saw in precise counterpoint to the songs’ emotional flux. Equally important is the return of Anna Burch’s harmonies, which continue to add an indispensable femininity and balance to Milia’s nasal harangue.
With all of these components firing together so deliberately unified, the result is a dynamic, nuanced monitor into one’s internal processing of desire and loss—and perhaps Frontier Ruckus’ most streamlined and intensely cogent work yet.
If you like: Joe Pug, Samantha Crain, Ha Ha Tonka, Langhorne Slim