Combine brutal self-awareness, melancholic love affairs, and a natural pop sensibility and you will arrive at Quit the Curse, Anna Burch’s debut album. The Detroit singer-songwriter has spent years paying her dues playing in bands like Frontier Ruckus and Failed Flowers, but seems most at home as a solo act, singing a collection of lost-love songs tinged with irony and infectious hooks.
On Quit the Curse, Burch intermingles quirky candidness with familiar clichés, offering a refreshing take on age-old breakup anthems. Despite their dim subject matter, the songs possess a weightlessness brought on by Burch’s bright chord progressions and the occasional pedal steel swell. This contrast makes the album feel like laying in the sand with a piña colada but also browsing through pictures of your ex and their new partner.
The record reaches its height of beachy-ness on “Belle Isle,” a gorgeous play on cookie-cutter 1960’s surf-pop (complete with time changes and irreverent one-liners) that name-drops Detroit’s much-beloved island park gem. Burch sings “I wish that you would hold me in your arms/Like the night we made out on Belle Isle,” in a sweetly deadpan voice atop sunny pedal steel; equally endearing and amusing, it feels like an inside joke that we’re all in on – one called modern romance.
But the album is not solely a list of sugar-coated grievances. In “What I Want,” Burch hones in on the importance of moving forward and gives herself and anyone else who’s listening some words to live by. “I won’t play the victim just because I can’t get what I want,” sings Burch, followed by “Self-destruction is so played out/So is self-pity and self-doubt,” offering some genuine self-reflection and taking a jab at the melodrama of heartbreak.
Burch’s matter-of-fact line delivery and decade blending instrumentation heed a laid-back listen that reflects the indecision, apathy, and confusion involved in most post-millennium love stories.
Few Detroit based singer-songwriters have hustled as hard as former Frontier Ruckus songstress Anna Burch, heartbreaker and sorceress of breathy lo-fi honesty. And as of last week, we aren’t the only ones to be enchanted by Burch’s brand of pretty pain and ennui. Polyvinyl Records (Xiu Xiu, Deerhoof and fellow Michigander Fred Thomas) announced Burch as the latest addition to their label last week after discovering her demo by word of mouth. The label celebrated by debuting Burch’s Noah Elliott Morrison directed video for her first single “2 Cool 2 Care.”
Exploring the impossible task of courting someone who is, well, too cool to care, Burch’s debut single shimmers with warmth despite detailing the lonesome effects of the cold shoulder and emotional ghosting. “2 Cool 2 Care” follows a restless Burch delicately trying to capture the attention of a passive lover, following him to his suburb, hula-hooping poolside with the confession “you scare me with your indifference/I like you best/when you’re a mess.” She effortlessly channels the likes of goddess Angel Olsen, but Burch is hardly following in anyone else’s footsteps.
Keep it cool and stay tuned for Burch’s debut LP, due out early 2018. For now, revisit summer vibes and shitty relationships with “2 Cool 2 Care” below:
Frontier Ruckus has been dishing out deeply personal, heavy-hearted folk rock for fifteen years. Their latest installment of polite devastation comes in the form of Enter the Kingdom. Their fifth record (released in the February of this year) comes full circle with the striking visual for the album’s title track, which premiered on Billboard last week.
Written, edited and directed by Ohio native and Detroit transplant Jay Curtis Miller, “Enter the Kingdom” is a beautiful midwestern narrative following the death of a family’s matriarch, an estranged father figure and a wedding that shrinks, swells and sings in the absence of both. Frontier Ruckus frontman Matthew Milia admits the video’s interpretation may stray from his personal connection to the song’s meaning, but agrees that the clip still explores the weight of loss and the complexities and frailties of family. “The family’s scattered, all that once mattered will die/ I sleep in the bush that separates the houses/ I wake with a push from random ex-spouses” sings Milia, alongside a sweeping string section and tender backing vocals. Miller accents the drama by pairing childhood flashbacks, mental projections and delicate close-ups that feel more like portraiture than music video. Just over seven minutes long, “Enter the Kindom” gives space to connect, reflect and dive deep into a world that only Frontier Ruckus can create: quiet tales of surrender, triumph and heartbreaking malaise.
Grab the tissues and enter Frontier Ruckus’ uneasy kingdom below:
Matthew Milia and his gaggle of lovelorn folkies – otherwise known as Frontier Ruckus – return with a sardonic make-out party prelude to their forthcoming record Enter the Kingdom. The sad, sensual clip for latest single “Our Flowers Are Still Burning” offers a camcorder view of social loneliness ahead of the album’s February 17th release. A slow-dance, folk-ified, Big Star-esque confessional with a touch of reversed male gaze, “Flowers” instills hopeful resonance with listlessness revery, something the Frontier gang has championed and expanded upon.
Singer and guitarist Anna Burch documents the party through a vintage handheld, a perfect companion to Ruckus’ boxes-in-your-parents-attic aesthetic. The low-key gathering is standard Detroit, containing a quiet cast of characters who find temporary love, lust and casual catharsis in one another. Burch wanders upstairs to discover Milia alone, singing and soaking fully clothed in a running shower as spit swapping commences downstairs. Whether Milia is struck by social anxiety, heartache or an overwhelming sense of not knowing his role in the grand (and not-so-grand) scheme of things, Burch lovingly coerces him from his bath time meltdown with the promise of a cake decorated with sugary, saccharine letters spelling out the song’s title.
The band leaves the house party in the dead of winter, Milia still wet and without a jacket or a lover, but surrounded by his Frontier Ruckus bandmates, resigned to keep on trucking even in the harsh light of the morning after.
Grab a tissue or a kiss and take a sad soak with Frontier Ruckus below:
It’s time to retire our summer soundtracks and dust off our pumpkin spiced selection of tunes that illicit all of the external change in season imagery and gives love to the internal shifts, too. Whether you’re tuning a new leaf or simply shedding an old one, here are a few Detroit tracks that celebrate sweater weather and the witching hour.
Midwestern maven of Rocky Mountain sadness, Anna Ash delivered this brooding performance back in 2013. A little Cat Power, a touch Lucinda Williams and some wispy instrumentals and “Haunt” is pleasantly unsettling but all around totally beautiful.
The White Stripes: “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground”
It feels equal parts wrong and right to include The White Stripes. Sure, everyone knows this song but does everyone remember it? Quite literally about the autumnal dance vs. a lover leaving (leafing? sorry.) is a subdued-rock heartbreak anthem but leaves enough space to not take itself so seriously.
Every time I get to compile a playlist I find some way to squeeze in one of my favorite, now defunct, indie bands from yesteryear (okay, so only like eight years ago but STILL). Sonically, “Black Hole” feels more Fall than Summer, and more transitional than stationary. A swirling existential crisis that grounds itself in its attempt to “escape inevitability” makes it a reflective prelude to winter.
Storyteller folkies Frontier Ruckus are beautifully seasoned in exploiting singer/songwriter Matthew Milia’s broken poetry. Sufjan Stevens-esque, this soul-trip, magic hour road trip track encompasses the urgency to fulfill needs before winter, like a squirrel hiding seeds and nuts or like a bear making sure his Casper gets delivered in time for hibernation and chill. It’s sad, yes, but because its Frontier Ruckus it is filtered through hopeful resolve.
Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas: “Dead Brains”
This saccharine zombie-fied acoustic version of “Dead Brains” flirts with the hard to swallow but easy to celebrate moving onward and upward. It’s sorrowful but is without regrets. This version especially yanks on some Fall-time feels with its DIY sincerity and it’s unapologetic trekking forward, Jess and Co. make dead brains sound appealing.
A summer fantasy written in the thick of a Michigan winter, Detroit’s favorite folky foursome Frontier Ruckus delivers a new track “27 Dollars” from their forthcoming LP, just in time to instill premature longing for a summer that still has a few hours on the clock.
Singer-songwriter Matthew Millia is no stranger to volunteering his vulnerabilities by means of his pleasantly troubled troubadour dance with intimacy to the rich, extensive Americana fabric of the Frontier Ruckus catalogue. Joined by David Jones, Zachary Nichols and Anna Burch, Milia and company have tapped into a beloved era of mid-2000’s indie with a modern emotional intelligence that is fit for timelessness. A little Belle & Sebastian, a tad Okkervil River with a dash of seasonal repression and hopeful ennui, “27 Dollars” is an upbeat anthem for restless hearts and empty pockets; a true midwestern cocktail. The track bounces with banjo twang and swaying synths, eliciting a backseat tour through pot hole, pock marked streets with a cracked phone screen that you check incessantly despite finger tip splinters.
It’s New Years Eve-Eve, and I’m flooded with the sounds of the past year. 2015 saw the rise of Detroit music in an unforgettable way. Our musicians took to the stage and to the studio with an unmistakable fire under their asses, in turn producing one of the most emotive soundtracks for the year as a whole. Detroit had something to say and people listened. I could go on and on about how I feel about the textural landscape of what this city produced this year, and how for the first time in years I felt moved and compelled to share my findings with the same enthusiasm one might reserve for opening Christmas gifts. I could talk about how Wolf Eyes‘ I am a Problem: Mind in Pieces broke my heart in ways I thought impossible, or how Moonwalks‘ Lunar Phases pushed me back to being in smokey concert venues, chasing after psychedelic rock bands when I was 16, making me feel younger than I did when I was actually young. So instead, I asked a few Detroit artists, most of whom released music this year, what local release stood out to them in 2015, and what they are most anticipating in the coming year. If what we heard is any indication of what’s to come, my suggestion is to brace yourselves: Detroit just got started.
FAVORITE OF 2015: My favorite release is a single track. Absofacto’s “Dissolve” hit me hard out of wintery nowhere in early February of 2015 (and I’d been working in studio with Jon Visger on and off for a while at that point) – but that’s how he works. Lurks, rather, within shadows. Jon Visger wrote, produced, and released this song himself. Nostalgic alarms reminiscent of mid-90s Boards of Canada fire the song into motion and are quickly joined by the fast-approaching outer edge of the track’s structural spine: the drums. They weigh about a thousand pounds each and somehow I feel weightless upon their anticipated arrival. (Sweaty like Black Moth Super Rainbow, yet crisp like Com Truise.) You’re soon swallowed up by the groove in its entirety, where bass is vicious and Visger’s vocals emerge. Lyrics speak out from a character’s entangled, love-sore point of view: a last-ditch effort farewell letter/self-evaluation. Love’s magnetism paired equally with its potential volatility.
MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2016: Recently, I listened to a bunch of new demos at Assemble Sound studio in Detroit with bassist Jeff Cuny of the band Valley Hush. I was pretty taken aback by how much things have blossomed sonically and vocally for them since hearing them in 2014. They’re a newer band, and for me it’s exciting to watch a group’s sound evolve and sometimes quite rapidly. It sounded like they have been experimenting, which is great, so I’m excited for what’s to come.
MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2016: It would have to be my bandmate and roommate Anna Burch’s new batch of solo songs that I’ve been thick in the midst of watching her create over the past year or so. Her melodies and lyrical voice are both really captivating. She hasn’t officially said it will come out this year, but I’m hoping.
FAVORITE OF 2015: Dwelling Lightheartedly In The Futility Of Everything by Matthew Daher was an early 2015 release, but stuck with me for the whole year. It’s not a pop or dance album and the songs are challenging – they seem to be five different animals that live together in the same cave. But like magic, they opened up and travelled through me like a dance. “Cyclicity” seemed like it was written just for me, and I was lucky enough to collab with Matt and produce a video for the song. Just a beautiful exchange of energy on that collaboration.
MOST ANTICIPATED IN 2016: My most anticipated local release is whatever Ritual Howls put out because holy crap, their 2014 release, Turkish Leather, makes my eyes roll back in my head with my tongue hanging out like cartoon dog drooling over a steak or bone or whatever dumb food item cartoon dogs like to eat. I’ll be spying on them online until I see something released!
FAVORITE OF 2015:I would by lying if I said a local release stuck out enough to be regarded as a favorite in 2015. Most of what I heard locally was a recollection of once unsuccessful “indie” bands until the 90’s came back, hip/trip-hop and grunge were openly repurposed, and Ableton was accepted as everyone’s backing track. If anything, Tunde Olaniran had a track I dug off of Transgressor. In my opinion, the only good thing that happened in Detroit and nationally in 2015 is that more female artists demanded and took the attention of listeners. At this point in time and in the bigger picture, this is more important than any best of the year list.
Frontier Ruckus‘ Matthew Milia has a lot to be thankful for. For starters, Ryan Adams sent him an email about anticipating ”smoking a jay” and listening to the new recordings and they scored former Wilco drummer, Ken Coomer, as producer and percussionist on their 2016 release recorded in Nashville earlier this year. Formed in 2003, Frontier Ruckus has built a reputation on pairing vividly raw and pleasantly long winded imagery with lush pop arrangements. Each song paints portraits of memories, dreams, and personally important geographical landmarks. Just a year after the release of their fourth album, Sitcom Afterlife, Milia and gang — David Jones (banjo, electric banjo), Zach Nichols (musical saw, trumpet, alto horn, meodica, keys) and Anna Burch (bass, vocals) — return home to close out a short tour. They play tonight at Marble Bar in Detroit on the tail of the announcement of the completion of their fifth LP. I caught up with Milia to discuss tour, Thanksgiving, and the tao of Frasier Crane.
1. What’s the best part about touring? Any good stories from this latest trip?
I turned 30 on this last trip, in Houston, and it felt kind of heavy. Some fans made me a homemade cake and presented it to me onstage between songs with candles lit, which the rest of the band was in on, and everyone sang me “Happy Birthday.” I’ve been touring for most of my adult life so it felt natural to be away for it—if anything I just felt an immense gratitude to be able to still be doing what I want to be doing at this stage of life.
2. When you’re on the road, what do you miss most about Detroit?
There’s something comforting about geographical orientation. What I love most about Detroit is that it just happens to be the place where I’ve best memorized how all the roads map out and connect — the intricacies locked away within the metropolis. There’s kind of a thrilling novelty to the pure dislocation of tour at first. But a few weeks in, you wish you knew your surroundings more innately without consulting Yelp.
3. It’s been just over a year since the release of Sitcom Afterlife. What’s been the biggest change in Frontier Ruckus from then to now?
Anna is playing bass guitar again! For the first time since her departure, right after Deadmalls and Nightfalls came out in 2010. It creates a nice heightened energy on stage. We’re five albums in now, and with each album it just seems to crystalize the overall feeling of the band, and diminishes distracting anxiety. People at shows have this greater context to see things in. The characters in the songs all interact. The band’s narrative grounding just feels sturdier and a bit more substantial, without being too self-aggrandizing about it.
4. You’ve described yourself as a verbose lyricist. What are some of your favorite words or imageries?
Early on I really like mixing biblical or religious imagery with sexuality. I think 13 years of pent up Catholic schooling will do that. These days, in a more balanced way, I think I’m still locked into the almost obsessive and systematic image-cataloguing of banal domestic suburban household objects and scenery that I fell into during Eternity of Dimming. I love detailing the unfolding of great familial drama in front of a static backdrop of living rooms and dads’ home offices.
5. You have a background in poetry. How is the writing process different for you when writing lyrics versus poetry?
Well I rhyme in song which I never ever allow myself to do in poems. So I rhyme like hell in song. The more complex or internal or multi-word the rhyme the better. And then there’s the chordal and melodic component which inevitably influences the language and meter of lyrics. I like to juxtapose in opposites. So if the chords sound happy I’ll tend to evoke an unsettling memory or something that challenges my emotional comfort, and vice versa. With poetry it’s all about language and much more conversational.
6. Could you describe Frontier Ruckus’ aesthetic via a memory that best encapsulates it?
One time I was riding in the back seat of the car with my mother and grandmother. For some reason I was wearing roller blades. The only other thing in the back seat was my grandmother’s oxygen tank. We were stopped at a light and my curiosity led me to twist the knobs until it rattled and hissed and I got so freaked out that I swung the car door open and jumped out, slipping on my roller blade wheels in the path of oncoming traffic. My mom swung her door open which signaled to the cars to screech to a halt. That mixture of a comforting situation turning erratically panicked is what I think the band is about.
7. You just finished recording your fifth LP in Nashville, slated to release next year. What does it sound like? If it were a thanksgiving food what would it likely be?
It was the first album we’ve done outside of Michigan and our first with a producer — Ken Coomer (Wilco’s original drummer), who also drummed on the whole record. It’s definitely got more of a polished baroque pop vibe, with string parts and mellotron, etc. But where Sitcom Afterlife was sort of a one-off break-up album dealing with the bitterness of a specific situation, I think this album returns to the more universal themes of our earlier records that tried to portray the sorrow and loss inherent to notions of family, home, and memory, but through a sense of beauty and complex appreciation.
It would be a slice of pumpkin pie mingling with a bit of creamed onions from a reused plate.
8. What inevitable awkward family interaction are you dreading/looking forward to this Thanksgiving?
Just the perennial explanation of what being in a band is like, and what sort of accomplishments the band achieved since the last briefing. I’m blessed with a super supportive family though. Still one always feel obliged to qualify things in relatable terms.
9. What does the ideal 2016 look like for the band?
Our aforementioned fifth album will be coming out at some point! Lots of touring and a few trips to Europe I’m sure. Collaborating with rad artists on music videos. I’ll be compiling another collection of poems I hope, along with some short fiction.
10. What character of Frasier are you and why?
Definitely Frasier. I’d be lying if I didn’t desperately relate to his misguided narcissism colliding with crippling insecurity.