When The New Frontiers take the stage at The Marquee, 222 N. Main, Friday, August 23, you can expect to find more than just another clichéd indie or emo band playing to the audience. Instead, you'll see a prime example of what a young band making all the right moves looks like in the landscape of a revised music industry.
Now, let's not be misleading. The Dallas band formerly known as The Stellamaris isn't one that magically appeared out of the ether and was immediately blessed with favor and good graces from its inception. The group has, however, done nearly everything that can be asked and expected of a new artist and been rewarded for its efforts.
After changing its moniker to The New Frontiers, the group released a self-titled Tour EP in 2007 to fill the gap until its full length debut on the Militia Group label could be released earlier this year. Once Mendings, was finally released in early 2008, all of the band's hard work to date started coming to fruition.
Aided by a tiered release that saw the new album distributed through electronic download distributors before putting physical copies of the discs in independent record stores and, finally, full distribution through all retailers, The New Frontiers generated a rapidly growing buzz that has allowed the band to tour nearly non-stop since the beginning of the year.
Reviews for the disc have been highly favorable to date, including a four (out of five) star review in Paste Magazine and ringing endorsements from publications like Spin and Under the Radar, but it has undoubtedly been rewarding to know that the response of the general public preceded the glowing reviews. When the disc was released digitally in January, a glitch in the process kept iTunes from carrying the new music for nearly a month, until the disc was released in independent record stores. As a result, Amazon became the primary purchase point for the electronic release during its first month of availability, and the album debuted at number four on Amazon's digital distribution charts, pleasantly surprising even the band at the initial response.
When speaking briefly with guitarist/vocalist Nathan Pettijohn last week about how the past year has transpired, it seems that has been the overwhelming theme of 2008 for the band.
"We recorded the album last April," he told me, "and had been sitting on it for a year before it came out this past April. I guess it's like any person's first record, in that we weren't sure how people would respond, but we've been really surprised and grateful at the reception."
"When it came out, we were scouring the Internet to see what people thought of it (the new album)," Pettibone continued. "It's a good thing, but we were hard pressed to find anything negative said about it."
Released by the Militia Group, Pettibone definitely thinks the label's support has helped add to the band's success.
"We're not the same as the other bands on the label," Pettibone explained, "but Militia Group has a really respected catalogue, so it's been a good place and very positive for us."
Perhaps part of what make the band stand out, both on the label and in the press, is its intriguing blend of independent pop, shoegazer and country/Americana leanings. Tastefully placed slide guitar lines add to the haunting qualities of disc opener "Black Lungs" and a touch of pedal steel extends the road weary vibe of "The Day You Fell Apart," but it's the attention to detail and acoustic flourishes throughout the album that really make it stand out sonically.
As you work your way through the disc, Pettibone references the songs "Man Down" and "Mirrors" as a good starting point for those just getting introduced to the band, as they show both sides of the band's sound and style. While "Man Down" builds sonically to produce a tension that's reflected in the lyrics, "Mirrors" counters it with a peacefulness and release that comes with the layered vocals of the chorus as the subject stands tall amidst what the world throws at him and remains firm to support those around him.
Even taking Pettibone's references into consideration, those two stand outs still don't touch on the breadth of Mendings, which continues to unfold with repeated listens--undoubtedly the reason for such a positive response and glowing reviews. Hints of Cary Brothers' melancholy and ease flow smoothly from the songs, while hints of Matthew Sweet's gift for melody shine in "Strangers." Elsewhere, "Passing On" shows the band's gift for simple, stripped back song structures: gradually adding in layers to complement Pettibone's vocals and highlight the subject's solitude like a morning sunrise.
This weekend's Tulsa show comes near the end of a summer tour, which will see the band return home for a few weeks while planning for the fall. And while another club tour is always a possibility, based on the response the band has already received and is trying to build on, Pettibone said, "I think the best thing would be to find a really good supporting slot now," in order to build on the foundation that has already been laid.
That said, now is the time to catch the band in an intimate venue before taking the next step to larger rooms. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door for the show this Saturday night, August 23, which features local openers Cody Clinton and the Bishops and Ceceda.
Doors are scheduled for 7pm with an 8pm start time, but you may want to call ahead or check the Marquee's Myspace for details before the show. As of press time, scheduling conflicts had the room double booked, with the possibility of the show being moved to another venue. The most likely scenario at this time, however, looks like The New Frontiers show will start early, around 7pm, with the Assimilation show following later in the evening. However it shakes out, you need to track down The New Frontiers and latch on to Mendings if you haven't already. Early or late, it promises to be a great show.
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