Frontier Ruckus – Enter The Kingdom
In 2013 Matthew Milia and Frontier Ruckus released a sprawling, 20-song album called Eternity of Dimming. The road was long, the journey was often hard, and many listeners never made it to the final destination. Four years on and Matthew Milia has a new album out. This time we’re facing not so much a frontier ruckus as a polite suburban melee. Think middle-class bargain hunters at an out-of-town mall at the start of the Labor Day sales. This is an altogether more polite place to grow up in. But its inhabitants still face their own distinctive set of problems. And the scars can be just as deep as those received at any previous wilderness location. On Enter The Kingdom Matthew Milia takes us on a 37-minute tour through modern suburbia. It’s a real pleasure to be in his company even for such a short time. He’s certainly one of the most erudite guides in the neighbourhood. With his talk of glottal stops and gerunds, it’s clear that language is a major preoccupation. In fact, the man is a walking rhyming dictionary. And he sure knows how to make music. Every song on Enter The Kingdom is as catchy as a late-night hickey. Whether it’s the plaintive call for the return of ’27 dollars’, or the comforting waltz of the title track itself, these are melodies that keep on giving. And they’re always played with a full-on verve and sometimes a refreshingly idiosyncratic instrumentation. On ‘If You Can’, it seems like Frontier Ruckus like nothing more than to stay in on a rainy night and play the musical saw. Elsewhere there’s the sound of trumpets, clarinets, melodicas, and more. Yet this is modern suburbia. All is not exactly what it seems. “Your mind’s half hot lava and half Dexedrine”. “Our sacred neighbourhoods now only nominally exist, Your dad’s looking for work on craigslist”. Sounding like songs of innocence, these are more like songs of a certain type of experience. It’s an experience that’s common to many in today’s new suburban frontier. And Matthew Milia and friends are offering to take you on a short trip through it. Buckle up. You won’t be disappointed.
Timid, The Brave – Firesale
Timid, the Brave is the artist formerly known as Tim Selles. Straight out of Hamilton, Ontario, he has a new record, Firesale, out tomorrow. It’s early days, but it’s perhaps my favourite release of the year so far. It’s thoughtful, but tuneful. Spare, but not cold. Quiet, but not insipid. There’s the haunting sound of pedal steel. Some achingly beautiful strings. And melodies that insinuate their way into your very consciousness. These are songs that, according to Timid himself, capture that moment when “you muster up the courage to step back outside with fresh perspective”. Well, I’m glad to be back out there and in the company of such great music. Sometimes you luck out. Firesale found its way to me ahead of time and it’s been on repeat ever since. Did I mention it’s out tomorrow and that you can get it here?
Strand of Oaks – Hard Love
Strand of Oaks’ previous album, HEAL, marked the final instalment of Timothy Showalter’s transformation from the shy indie folk artist of Pope Kildragon to the muscular, tattooed, angry-sounding noise maker of ‘Goshen ’97’. In fact, the change in style was so profound that it raised the inevitable question ‘what could possibly come next?’ A ten-track homage to Mickey Rourke? A concept album about WWF? ‘Hard Love’ provides the answer. In some respects, things have been toned down a little. There’s a quiet piano-led ballad, ‘Cry’. And on songs such as ‘Salt Brothers’, there’s a reminder of the distinctively fragile quality that Showalter’s voice can have, something which had gotten a little lost over time. That’s not to say there isn’t a fearsome aspect to some of the sounds. ‘Everything’ being a case in point. But this time the energy tends to be channeled to a Springsteen-like end, with ‘Radio Kids’ sounding like it was born in the early 1980s, while ‘On The Hill’ is a truly great workout. With Hard Love Timothy Showalter has found a sweet spot between the fey indie artist at an open mic night in a university town and the hard-living, loud-playing ’70s rock ‘n’ roll star. For the listener, it’s a good place to be. Hard Love it might be, but it’s his best album yet.
Dr. Dog – Abandoned Mansion
Last year, Dr. Dog released a reworked version of their very first album, The Psychedelic Swamp. It was bright, playful, and, well, full on swamptastic. This year (technically, the end of last year), the world’s most well educated musical canines have dropped a very different sort of album. There’s a clue in the title. Abandoned Mansion stands high and proud, but there’s an unmistakably darker and generally more foreboding atmosphere. “You search through the dark of your deserted heart, To return to the splendor again.” But it’s not all cobwebbed ceilings and dusty drapes. For every slightly disconcerting image, there’s a wonderfully uplifting hook. “I’m on both sides of the line, Bitter on the fruit and sweet on the rind”. In fact, for an album that evokes Miss Havisham, this is a surprisingly sing-along proposition. If the refrain from the seemingly mournful title track doesn’t turn around in your head when you’re trying to get to sleep at night, then it’s possible you’ve never watched Sunset Boulevard. Could it be that after nearly 20 years of already excellent music making the Dog Drs. have produced their best album ever? It sure is. Abandoned Mansion isn’t just worth a visit. It should an essential stop on the magical Dr. Dog mystery tour.
Wives of Farmers – Excellent Happiness Forever
Thanks to Wives of Farmers who directed me towards their new album. It’s well worth checking out. There’s a certain David Gedge quality to some of the vocals and an insistent guitar sound that’s immediately appealing. Standout tracks are perhaps ‘Gruff’ and ‘Modern Song’. In Helen Weeks, WoF share a band member with The Equatorial Group, who appeared on these very pages not so very long ago. Her vocals are a nice foil to the lead on a number of tracks. Excellent Happiness Forever is available at the appropriate Bandcamp page.
Her Harbour – Go Gently Into the Night
Thanks to everyone who has sent me their music in the last few weeks. I listen to everything and I’ll post some other nuggets in the near future. In the meantime, one album that has really stood out is the new release by Gabrielle Giguère, who records as Her Harbour. It’s one of the most minimalist albums that I’ve heard in a long time. Wintry-sounding. It’s perfect for the northern hemisphere season that’s in it. More than that, set against the backdrop of death, hence the allusion in the title, these are songs that weigh heavily on the psyche. Happily, though, some of them come with the most beautiful melodies attached. My favourites, if that’s even an appropriate term in this context, are ‘Chime and Knell’ and ‘Memento Mori’. The album is available from 3 February from Her Harbour’s Bandcamp site. Highly recommended.