Despite their name, Michigan-based four-piece Frontier Ruckus make rather restrained, gentle and reflective Americana chamber pop. Enter the Kingdom, their Ken Coomer-produced fifth album, offers an invitation to visit and explore suburban American homes, the lost kingdom of its title. It’s a wistful reflection on a vanished past and childhood innocence where “Our sacred neighbourhoods, now only nominally exist, your dad’s looking for work on Craigslist”, as Matthew Milia sings on the bittersweet Sarah Springtime.
With Anna Burch providing the harmonies and David Zane on banjo, melancholia hangs light but pervasively across the eleven tracks, opening with Visit Me, Milia’s airy journey through memories of being “home watching my dad watch the NFL alone” and unfulfilled dreams (“I wound up in Providence as a second-rate dramatist”). He says the Enter the Kingdom’s genesis lay in how his dad got laid off and had to rely on disability checks, a childhood awakening to the harsh realities of life in which everything that gave you security could be taken away. It’s something he deftly encapsulates in the strings-swathed Gerunds with the line “Now that my parents really got no place to go even to cash a check”, a song that manages to rhyme ‘open’ and ‘ibuprofen’. However, despite that sense of unfulfilled lives and dreams, of a ‘botched’ life, there’s optimism too, the jaunty 27 Dollars balancing its downcast side with the conviction that “everything will awaken”.
Likewise, despite “the shitty wages that we’re earning”, as the title of the sweetly baroque folksy pop song says, he’s hoping that Our Flowers Are Still Burning, while, slightly reminiscent of Paul Simon, on the perky, chugging Positively Freaking he tells us “spring is always coming in a manner of speaking” and those warm memories can dull the pain of reality as “Summer lives in back of the mind of you when you were kind of drunk and sweetly blocked.”
Following an instrumental break with Since Milford that spotlights Zachary Nichols’s strings arrangements, Enter the Kingdom heads towards an upbeat close. Gauche offers a wry take on romance followed by the brief trumpet, banjo and acoustic guitar accompanied Nothing Is Working (“Jennifer says that whenever my hesitation is lurking, she doesn’t care, she’ll still be there”). Even on the post break up reflections of the simply picked sadness of If You Can with its theremin whippoorwills and thunderstorms, “something stays behind to keep the light so bright.” One that, as Morrissey noted, never goes out, no matter the darkness.
Announced by stately strings, the slow waltzing title track brings things to an end on a poignant note. Milia sings of how, faced with the “the dumbness of death “, “random ex-spouses that pace through the neighbourhood” and the realisation that “all that once mattered will die”, it’s memories that help us survive and cling to that kingdom where childhood and dreams once grew.
Enter the Kingdom is out now on Loose Music (UK/EU)