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Frontier Ruckus

Frontier Ruckus

Suburban rhymes

by James M. Manheim

From the June, 2017 issue

Frontier Ruckus got started when two of its members were students at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, and imagery of Michigan ("The Black-Ice World"), and specifically of northern Oakland County, still appears often in their songs. The songwriting of front man Matthew Milia took a big step forward when he studied poetry with Diane Wakoski at Michigan State. Songwriters at that level who've studied poetry formally are not abundant, and Frontier Ruckus has shown national appeal. Some of the band's early songs originated while Milia was still an undergraduate, but he absorbed the neo-Beat lessons of Wakoski and went his own way: he turned into a virtuoso rhymer.

He kept the long, irregular sentence shapes of modern poetry, but then, unlikely as it may seem, cast them into elaborate rhyme schemes. At first the verbal contortions Milia goes through to get them to work seem almost preposterous, but stick with it, and soon enough that will begin to feel like the point.

So come on down and visit me

My condition petitions so implicitly

I need you


I wrote it on the notepad of the

suggestion box

I'll breathe the desperation till

The kingdom unlocks

For me too
That's from "The Visit," on the new Frontier Ruckus album, Enter the Kingdom, where Milia shows a new knack for songs that alight briefly on a simple image before plunging back into the thickets. The romantic quality of Milia's songs may be what has endeared Frontier Ruckus to young club-goers around the country. In "Gerunds" he offers an image of Christmas-season love among the malls that's hard to beat:
Holiday errands

The piling of gerunds

In the snow

Fuck total awareness

There's only one thing I should know
But the appeal may also be that Milia has put a new spin on the musical style known as Americana. Avoiding the combination of acoustic instruments and mythic rural past that defines the genre, he backs his suburban imagery with banjo, trumpet, melodica, and country guitar to create a delicate, fanciful realm--one that
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both suggests the inner life pulsing beneath the blue suburban skies and puts the rhymes in a rather rarefied context where you're willing to pay attention to them.

It's kind of as though Allen Ginsberg and Cole Porter had gotten together and agreed to write Americana songs about the Detroit suburbs. It's just crazy enough to catch on, and it seems to be doing just that.

Frontier Ruckus returns to southeast Michigan with a performance at Top of the Park at 8:30 p.m. on June 22.    (end of article)

[Originally published in June, 2017.]

 

 
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