Release Date: Mar 1, 2011
Record label: Paper Bag Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
The Rural Alberta Advantage may have struck gold with the first full-length, Hometowns, but three years on, their second album, Departing, takes that musical success to an entirely new level. There's no mythical sophomore slump to be found on Departing. There's no hint of a lackadaisical approach: Departing is indomitable in sound and spirit. With Departing, The Rural Alberta Advantage seem less confined to the Willa Cather’s prairie writings.
If you name yourself “The Rural Alberta Advantage,” you better be damn well prepared for people to constantly inquire as to just what it is about a windy, freezing tundra that gives a considerable leg up. Previously, on the excellent Hometowns, it was a rawness that came from a place beyond frostbite, capturing a collection of songs united in that tender yet painful feeling of home—a home with both sweet and sour memories. On Departing, there’s no lack of that rawness or emotion, and the crippling nostalgia still reverberates throughout.
The cover image that graces the Rural Alberta Advantage’s sophomore album, Departing, is about as iconic in Canadiana as they come: the approaching headlights of a vehicle trying to navigate a road in the middle of a complete white-out. The image is an apt one, as Departing is, at times, about as cold and stark as a Canadian winter, which leads this reviewer a tad bit surprised that the album is dropping when March is coming on like a lion. This is as January a record as it comes, and it is jaw-droppingly stunning in its wintery bluster.
THE RURAL ALBERTA ADVANTAGE play the Phoenix April 29. See listing. Rating: NNNN The Rural Alberta Advantage rode earnest lyrics and melodic folk rock to breakout success on their debut. The hometown heroes' long-awaited follow-up repeats that formula, but with the added confidence of years of sold-out shows and packed-venue singalongs.
The Rural Alberta Advantage’s debut, Hometowns, was met with a lot of praise for its bleak, bramble-folk depiction of the brutal, regrettable, and somewhat embarrassing components of a relationship’s sour end. It was the stuff that requires a certain amount of inspiration of a besmirched recent memory, and not easily replicated on an album-per-album basis. In case anyone was worried, Nils Edenloff is still overwhelmed with bruised love, but now it's of a different breed.
At the end of Departing, The Rural Alberta Advantage’s sophomore album, frontman Nils Edenloff sings about god. Or at least he seems to be; the lyric is sweetly ambiguous, referring as much to rapturous memories of young sex and love as to a spiritual awakening. Conflation of spiritual and physical ecstasies is nothing new — lineage of this tradition descends from “Song of Songs,” to Songs of Innocence and Experience, to Songs of Leonard Cohen.
The snow squall cover art for Canadian indie rock trio the Rural Alberta Advantage's sophomore effort, while skillfully echoing the opening scene of Fargo, perfectly sums up the spirited, shiftless, and heartfelt ten tracks contained within. It’s like they took 2009’s Hometowns, stuffed it in a snow globe, and shook it mercilessly. More confident, explosive, and produced than their lovable but ultimately flat-sounding debut, the aptly named Departing finds the trio ditching the living room scene for the road, carving out a solid collection of fiery, understated, nostalgia-laced indie pop gems that fly by like mile-markers.
Mediocre songwriting sabotages raucous folkies The cover photo of The Rural Alberta Advantage’s second album shows a stark, windblown snowcape shot from the rear window a car. The image is blurry, gray and white, the perfect metaphor for the somewhat featureless sonic squall that is found inside. Toronto residents now more than half a decade removed from their western Canadian roots, RAA whip up a raw, insistent, and stripped-down folk music that is enormously appealing on the surface.
The Rural Alberta Advantage may be a humble, charming trio playing ramshackle folk-rock, but on their sophomore record they face a problem more often associated with gangsta rappers and superheroes: What happens after you've covered the origin story? "The Ballad of the RAA" aside, Hometowns wasn't entirely autobiographical, but whether giving a voice to remote outposts ("Frank, AB", "The Dethbridge in Lethbridge", "Edmonton") or detailing quotidian domestic inertia in "Don't Haunt This Place", the experiences felt deeply embedded within them-- the proverbial record it took a lifetime to write. While Departing can't quite match its bolt-from-the-blue predecessor, it's not for the usual reasons: There are no dubious genre experiments, no interference from a bigger budget, no pressure of serious time constraints. Simply put, the stakes feel lower here, and there's an attendant lack of urgency now that they're no longer struggling to be heard.
It's not just their name that's geographically precise: the songs of the Rural Alberta Advantage are vividly specific in their sense of place. Frontman Nils Edenloff – who grew up in rural Alberta – takes us to "the woods where we first felt God", past "the cemetery where my father tried to start a new life", up the hills where tentative lovers gaze at the north star, imbuing every melancholy word with the nostalgic relief of one who escaped (the band are based in Toronto). The weather is a frequent motif, particularly the icy winters: in The Breakup, Edenloff foresees love's end in their thawing, while in Coldest Days, he recalls how "our love was holding on through a frostbitten dawn", to piano and guitar melodies that glitter like stalactites in moonlight.
There's nothing missing on the surface of The Rural Alberta Advantage's second album, Departing. A mere 33 minutes long, its ten songs are proof that the three-piece can nail one hook-driven arrangement after another. All based on the same two-sided template, either shimmering, buzzing layers of pop or stripped-down, warm folk, you might have heard very similar tunes elsewhere...like perhaps on their debut album Hometowns.
It seems like eons ago that I awarded The Rural Alberta Advantage‘s stunning debut, Hometowns, a CoS Top Star rating two summers back. The world was a different place then. For one, Jeff Mangum showed nearly no signs of resurrection. It was still a long-lost dream to catch Mangum popping his head out of the weirdo annex, and to even witness him sing into a microphone or strum a chord would be the equivalent of winning the indie lottery.
For Toronto-based band The Rural Alberta Advantage, music has always been a work in progress. Perhaps it’s been something that they’ve worked through – starting off humbly and being selected as one of eMusic’s top rising bands before signing to Saddle Creek in 2009. The trio that consists of singer Nils Edenloff and musicians Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt released Hometowns to a small audience and since that time have realized more and more fans comimg aboard.