Frontier Ruckus - Eternity Dimming
Eternity Dimming by Frontier Ruckus is so drenched in the sun-soaked sound of Americana, it has little to no identity of its own. It's almost as if Conor Oberst was told to calm down a bit and then proceed to see how many words he could cram into an album without saying much at all about anything.
As an opening paragraph, this may seem a tad volatile, but it needs to be said, as Frontier Ruckus are a band that have crafted a name for themselves, yet seem to have lost all appeal with this latest release. The band’s debut, The Orion Songbook, was hailed as a great first album from a band bursting onto the country and folk music scene. The follow up, Deadmalls & Nightfalls, equalled the heights they had set themselves previously, and it seemed like the band could do no wrong. This third release, Eternity Dimming, is similar in many ways to these previous two albums, yet is cleaned up to such an extent that you can only imagine the production staff had a great deal of fun sucking all that was natural out of this record. Beneath everything else, the music here is simple, raw, and good, but that is lost underneath the focus on making something that would sound clean and radio-friendly. At times, you can even see points where a growl or a sneer is cleaned up, and it destroys the thing that folk music always has its base, the simple connection between the musician and his instrument. Here, that connection is still there, but you have to search for it.
Songs which do have hints of their previous quality, such as 'Nightmares of Space', treat this lo-fi glaze as an Instagram filter over the recording. Matthew Milia's vocals are washed with this brush, but a violin soars around the song completely untouched. It's a baffling thing to listen to, but it's a small blip before we're back into uninspired monotony.
This album spans two halves, and is composed of twenty songs. The driving force is, as has always been the case, Milia's vocals. His potency with lyricism and melody is still here, and shines brightest on the album highlight, 'In Protection of Sylvan Manor'. Whereas before, when delivering line upon line of dense imagery there would be a juxtaposition given by the grainy vocal delivery, on Eternity Dimming no such juxtaposition happens, and this is why it tends to come across as more of a drawl than anything. 'In Protection of Sylvan Manor' differs, as finally everything else is stripped away, and the real folk layering can be seen, and it's pretty great. As with any great track on an album, it goes a fair way in showing just how poor everything else on offer is, which is tragic.
It's hard to see a way back for Frontier Ruckus. The truth is, this approach has been done better before, and Sufjan Stevens is one particular artist who immediately comes to mind. What was once a simple folk artist then made everything shimmer with a sheen of clean cut production. Whereas in that instance it ended up with a shift in focus to more intricate and complex musicianship, here is just shows that there just isn't much there. It's a real shame.