CD Review: Frontiers “Illusions”

Posted: January 16, 2012 by Windsor Zene in CDs, Reviews

Frontiers, Illusions

Produced by Erik Gurney, XII-22 Productions

By design and default, any and all music scenes develop pecking orders. There are some bands who are doing it simply for fun. There are bands who are doing it more out of love than talent and there are talented bands who just don’t seem to get it. There are bands who become headliners out of the gate and bands that toil for years never escaping the catacombs of being an opening act. And then there are some that seem to climb through each rank, sometimes unexpectedly, and through hard work and tenacity, start to turn heads.

Frontiers are one of those bands. A few years back, these guys were another generic indie punk rock band in a scene that was getting flooded. They played a series of opening slots (and a few perhaps ill-timed headliners), but no one seemed to be jumping on any Frontiers bandwagon. They were simply just there. All that changed about a year ago. A series of line-up shuffling and a re-commitment from those who remained seemed to light a new fire within the Frontiers camp and by their next show, something happened.

People noticed Frontiers. And not only did they notice, people were talking about Frontiers. The buzz was on.

Their new found passion and drive is nowhere more apparent that on their debut disc, Illusions, released this Friday January 20th at The FM Lounge (156 Chatham St. West, beside Pogo’s). And as a sign of how far Frontiers has come from the days of being an unknown opener, they’re being joined for their CD release with two very special guests – Windsor’s own national touring punk rock icons Orphan Choir (whose frontman Jim Meloche lent his vocals to the track “Bones” on the album) and the blues-rock duo, The Blue Stones (who are headed to Canadian Music Week this year).

As I prepare to write this review, part of me wonders if anyone in Frontiers age bracket will get the musical references being compared, as the first thing I was struck with upon listening was how much of a throw back this record was. Not in the sense that it sounds dated – it’s remarkably fresh and completely relevant – but in that a lot of the influences seem to be from the late 80’s or early 90’s. In fact, if I hadn’t known what this record was, I could probably have been convinced it was a long lost Replacements record from 1989. And I mean that in the best of terms.

“My Oh My” is a great album opener and reveals the energy and swagger that ultimately shape the Frontiers sound. Again, there’s a retro sound – if you were to dig into the Goo Goo Dolls past (yes, they are a horrible mish mash of corporate rock now), they were actually a great melodic punk band from Buffalo before Big Money came knocking and “Name” transformed them into a pathetically safe band. Well Frontiers captures that same original energy, that same free attitude that still manages to maintain a sense of respect for melody within its angst. This song is one of the most mature punk songs since, well, Orphan Choir.

“Only With Fire” is another great track that bounces the listener along in a virtual dancing pit. Not a mosh pit by any means, but bobbing along to the song you can almost imagine a sea of sweaty fans bobbing along in unison to the revelatory sounds Frontier was broadcasting from the stage. Smarty constructed (it almost feels like a little cousin to the Replacements’ “Bastards of Young”) this could easily be a single and summer anthem.

By the third track, they slow the tempo and seemingly raise the lighters, for “Bones”. Initially starting like a mid-90’s power ballad, it’s guttural honesty redeems it early and veers it from falling into a potentially cheesy territory. It’s whisky soaked reflection becomes painfully endearing and by the time explodes a few minutes in, you feel like you’re part of a angry punk choir, as singer Richard Kasoian is joined by Orphan Choir’s Jim Meloche to bring the choir home.

“Mechanics” shows a little more diversity to both the bands sound and Kasoian’s vocals (though he sounds eerily like Spirit of the West‘s John Mann here). There are some great changes here and once again, by songs end, it felt like another summer anthem.

“Anu Beginning” is perhaps the best pop song disguised as a thinking man’s punk song to come out of Windsor (Canada?) in the past decade. Killer hooks, great guitar work and superb production by Erik Gurney, pushes this song into a great realm. It’s almost reminiscent of another great punk band from Windsor, Death or Comber. Those guys had the same knack for disguising things that the punk community often rejects and wrapping it in a casing that is easier for them to digest.

The 6-song album closes out with “The Talk”, that begins with a mournful meandering that feels like the beginning of a break up conversation. Again, Kasoian shows a maturity in his voice. He’s finally learned to properly use his voice as an instrument, not just a purveyor of words. He is using it to push through emotion and emphasize lyrical content and is doing it incredibly well. A somber closing track that manages to incorporate powerfully simple melodies and instrumentation to leave you wanting more from this refreshing young band.

Frontiers are going to be a front runner in leading the Windsor music scene’s “next generation” – they’ve already made their commitment on record, that’s obvious. This CD is a great collection of stories and letters that encapsulates a band that has found it’s musical footing and in doing so, gained the confidence to grip their battle flag just a little bit tighter as they dig into the mud of the battlefield they are about to embark upon. If you haven’t discovered Frontiers yet, make this Friday your personal initiation.

Jamie Greer

Frontiers: “Illusions” CD Release Party, Friday January 20 at The FM Lounge (156 Chatham St. West, beside Pogo’s), with special guests Orphan Choir and The Blue Stones. 19+

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