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Deadmalls and Nightfalls

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Album Review

It's not hard to figure out that Frontier Ruckus are from Michigan; there are verbal clues as they drop mentions of East Lansing, White Lake, and Pontiac in the lyrics, but even without them, there's something about the dour classicism and sad, stoic beauty of Matthew Milia's melodies that has sprung from dozens of long nights stuck at home with a few feet of snow outside and a case of beer for company, or buggy evenings by the lake troubled by humidity and heartache. The literate angst and spare, elegant sound of 2010's Deadmalls & Nightfalls, powered by a handful of acoustic instruments (most handled by Milia and bandmate David W. Jones) and some tactfully applied horns (courtesy of Zachary Nichols), suggests a middle ground between the Palace Brothers and Sufjan Stevens, but the effect feels more like the shared experiences of Midwestern brethren than any conscious borrowing, and Milia and his bandmates give this album a full and satisfying sound without sacrificing the open spaces that add so much to the power of this music. Frontier Ruckus' name and approach conjure up images of a rural community, but the concerns of Deadmalls & Nightfalls are largely those of a place where the cities have fallen into disrepair and the suburbs are following their lead; the sorrow of this music speaks of a troubled time and community, but the bittersweet memories and uncomfortable present days in Milia's songs are a shout against the wasted potential of these cities and their people rather than self-pitying navel gazing. In its own subtle way, Deadmalls & Nightfalls is a powerful portrait of the sad state of post-millennial America, and the thoughtful simplicity of Frontier Ruckus' approach speaks as eloquently as any angry shout about life in post-industrial America.


Formed: Michigan

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Frontier Ruckus is a roots-based band from East Lansing, Michigan that incorporates elements of rock, folk, bluegrass, country, blues, and jazz into their lyric-driven songs. The band was formed by singer/songwriter Matthew Milia and banjo player David Winston Jones while in high school, and became a three-piece with Eli Eisman on bass. Milia then went to Michigan State University and Jones went to the University of Michigan, but instead of disbanding Frontier Ruckus, they expanded the band, adding...
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Deadmalls and Nightfalls, Frontier Ruckus
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