It’s been nearly a decade since Frontier Ruckus released their Orion Songbook debut and I’m hard pressed to think of a band who’ve brought me more pure joy in that time. Initially tagged as a country-folk outfit of sorts (it’s David Jones’ banjo, I guess, and maybe Zach’s musical saw), over nine years and four albums they’ve hit a rich seam of uber-literate, unfailingly melodic indie folk that has explored in tiny details the joys and pains of adolescence and love and all that entails.
Lyricist Matthew Millia has repeatedly displayed a gift for homing in on the minutiae of his childhood memories that somehow manages, precisely because of that specificity, to achieve something almost universal and relatable. But while up until now he’s largely explored a kind of honeyed, melancholy nostalgia, where “the air is sweet with bare summer feet”, this wonderful fifth album sees the modern world intrude in the harshest of ways, with the loss of a childhood home (“now that my parents really got no place to go…”) and a general sense of precariousness that again is depressingly universal. Which isn’t to say there’s anything maudlin about the music: recorded with former Wilco drummer Ken Coomer producing (and behind the kit), this is some of their loveliest work yet, with some gorgeous string arrangements and, as ever, those devastating Millia / Anna Burch harmonies, almost Everly-esque in their richness.
Indeed, if there were a criticism of this album – and to be honest I’m fumbling to come up with one – it’s that perhaps the music doesn’t quite reflect the anxiety of some of the lyrical content. But that’s a minor quibble – Frontier Ruckus aren’t going to turn into some abrasive complaint rock outfit any time soon, and as long as they keep making albums this beautiful, this poetic, I couldn’t be happier.