The banjo plucks and rolls, the musical saw sighs alongside the accordion, and a quivering mountain refrain calls out to some old memory. This is what Frontier Ruckus sounds like on cursory listen. Led by singer-guitarist Matt Milia, Ruckus has been rising locally since conquering Lansing a few years ago.
While on Ann Arbor indie Quite Scientific, the band hinted at something pretty incredible with its album The Orion Songbook (listen: "The Blood," "Rosemont St." and "Mount Marcy"). Similarly, Deadmalls & Nightfalls — the band's first on Ramseur (Avett Bros.) — hinges on Milia's image-rich wordplay, autobiographical meanderings and location-specific yarns that are as elusive and moody as childhood ghosts, and perfect for the open road.
For such a youthful band, Deadmalls sounds mature. It's a thoroughly produced studio album — perhaps overthought at times — but most of the 12 contemplative jangles sound warmer than anything the band has done. And while accompanied by booming horns and noodling electric guitar ("Silver Fishes"), the songs are all generally slower in tempo — or at least, less urgent — than before. Where Milia used to throw himself at you, here he asks for patience, and the music demands more attention. More, the rollicking openers, "Nerves of Nightmind" and "Ontario," present the band at its absolute best.
Frontier Ruckus CD release show (with Theodore supporting) is Saturday, July 17, at the Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor; 734- 996-8555; blindpigmusic.com. $12 advance, $15 day of. Paid entry includes copy of Deadmalls & Nightfalls.
Travis R. Wright is culture and arts editor of Metro Times. Write to Travis R. Wright at metrotimes.com.