Review Summary: In a year of excellent throwbacks, Frontier(s) serves up another.
When Texas Is the Reason released their seminal (and only) full-length Do You Know Who You Are?
in 1996, more than a few insiders felt that not only was the band this
close to breaking through to the big time, but also that their whole NYC post-hardcore scene was poised to become the new Seattle. Texas broke up soon thereafter, and that scenario never played itself out. In retrospect, perhaps it never really had a shot at all. By the time Jimmy Eat World finally brought "emo" to the mainstream consciousness, mentioning "Y2K" evoked chuckles rather than panic, and even so, Jim Adkins and Co. had already essentially morphed into a pop-punk band not all that different from everything else that was riding high on the airwaves. Fast forward another decade, and we're still waiting for something with such passion and bluster to make the hungry masses take notice.
It's never going to happen, of course, because it would have happened already. It's despairing to note that, despite its seemingly inherent accessibility, there's no mainstream context in which to view There Will Be No Miracles Here
, our first look at Louisville's Frontier(s). It's no surprise that the band seems like a direct descendent of their mid-'90s forebears, as frontman Chris Higdon is a veteran of that very scene, having provided the vocals for a little band called Elliott. The record's crunchy, driving riffs and instantly likable melodies, delivered in Higdon's trademark earnest style, make it an exceedingly easy listen, and yet it also sounds distinctly "underground." Fair or not, it's natural to want to make comparisons to band members' previous projects, but given Elliott's chameleonic career, such analysis proves difficult and perhaps fruitless; long story short, while the vocals are the only clear parallel, Frontier(s) sound more like the Elliott of the more fiery U.S. Songs
than that of their more restrained False Cathedrals
. Whether or not this is a good thing is up to the listener.
There Will Be No Miracles Here
is a refreshingly direct album that eschews the modern tendency toward technicality and indulgence, favoring instead basic, four-minute anthems. This makes most of the material here sound, much like the music of the band's aforementioned progenitors, very arena-friendly; despite the artists' relative obscurity, the songs seem designed to be played in front of huge crowds. There's certainly enough repetitive riffing and rubbery bass to please any Jawbox fan, but the guitar leads (courtesy of ex-Mouthpiece axeman Matthew Wieder) are bright and when Higdon belts out lyrics about "reaching for the sun" on "Von Veneer", it sounds like that's exactly what he's doing. Higdon himself, along with providing the name recognition that serves as a major drawing point for the band, is an unquestionably talented vocalist, who is as intense as ever here, and versatile enough to carry visceral rockers like "Sea of Galilee" and "Poor Souls" and moodier numbers like "Bones" with equal adeptness.
In its totality, Miracles
ends up being kind of an enigma. It has that "familiarity factor" that makes it catch on immediately, and yet it doesn't really sound like a direct rip-off of its influences. Similarly, despite its spit-shined production, it isn't exactly recognizable as a product of the present day, either. Frontier(s)' debut joins Everyone Everywhere's self-titled effort and Crooked Mountain, Crooked Sea's I Watched It From the Roadside
in breathing some much needed life into classic sounds in a time when a tags like "emo" and "post-hardcore" conjure up images of the latest makeup-donning band. In my alternative universe, they're the type of band that sells out major venues instead of the douchebag groups I needn't even mention. Sadly, we live in the real world, where such a thing would indeed take a miracle.