It's hard to tell if Frontier Ruckus is moving forward, or if the band has taken a step back.
Last week, the Detroit area band released their fourth LP, Sitcom Afterlife, and it's nothing like anything they've put out to date.
That's not a bad thing ... it's just ... different.
Frontier Ruckus came to prominence in 2008 with the release of The Orion Songbook, an album that was about as close to perfect as a contemporary folk record could be. The band created a signature sound around raw, haunting acoustic music and airtight lyrics.
On Sitcom Afterlife, the band moves away from that formula.
The new album trades the acoustic Americana for distorted guitars and a progressive rock sound.
Lyrically, Sitcom Afterlife is kind of bitter, which stands to reason, as frontman and lyricist Matt Milia has said the album is basically a breakup record.
On its own, it's a solid record — tracks like "Bathroom Stall Hypnosis" and "Crabapples in the Century's Storm" are superb — it's just not what most listeners will expect from Frontier Ruckus. It's like Adam Sandler doing dramas.
Listening to the upbeat, dare we say, poppy "Little Henrietta" elicits dueling emotions. First, it's a really fantastic track. But at the same time, it's hard not to feel like you're listening to Milia's self-indulgence. The deviation from folky twang to altish '90s-style rock might be a hugely successful choice for Frontier Ruckus — seriously. Sitcom Afterlife is that good. Still, it's hard not to feel a little bit betrayed.
It's not fair or even appropriate to pull out the overused "sellout" tag, but it's clear that on Sitcom Afterlife, Frontier Ruckus is trying to produce radio-worthy songs. And that's not a bad idea. The band is awesome and deserves to be heard by a wider audience. It's just too bad they had to change their sound and style to do it.