Release Date: Sep 30, 2014
Record label: Saddle Creek Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Indie Pop
The third studio album from the big-hearted Canadian indie rock trio, the Saddle Creek-issued Mended with Gold mines the same sonic and emotional terrain as its 2011 Polaris Prize-nominated predecessor, but there's an electricity that runs through the set that suggests the kind of band tightening that can only occur through heavy touring and workshopping. Urgency has always played a large part in the Rural Alberta Advantage sound, and their folksy indie rock anthems, despite being a tad formulaic, never feel disingenuous. That distinct heartland punk bite dominates the first half of the album, with sweaty crowd-pleasers like "Our Love.
The Rural Alberta Advantage are the epitome of the scrappy band done good. After two critically acclaimed records (Hometowns in 2008, Departing in 2011), a devoted fan base and a home on Paper Bag Records, it bears wondering what the indie folk threesome have left to bring to the table. As it turns out, quite a lot; the band's latest release, Mended With Gold, is a satisfyingly anthemic work wrapped around a highly emotional core that is distinctively — and eternally — theirs.A caveat: Those coming for the twangy, almost idiosyncratic nuggets buried in the band's debut record won't be disappointed, exactly, but this is a different RAA now, a bigger, bolder and wiser beast.
The Rural Alberta Advantage has never really deviated from their brand of emotional, sometimes feverish folk rock, a style that’s equal parts affecting, loud, and beautiful. That’s not to say they’ve been overly formulaic; the Toronto trio just know how to play to their strengths. Over two albums — 2008’s Hometowns and 2011’s Departing — they’ve masterfully blended quiet moments of heartfelt lyricism, softly strummed acoustic guitars, and subtle synths along with bursts of breakneck drum fills and breathlessly paced guitar chords.
The Rural Alberta Advantage’s songwriter Nils Edenloff has likely seen Moulin Rouge (who hasn’t?), but you wouldn’t know it to listen to the Canadian trio’s third LP, Mended With Gold. Throughout the effort, Edenlof sings about love like he was the first one to ever experience the emotion—and surely the only one to write songs about it. Opener “Our Love…” lets us know that “love will bring us down” while the rest of the record fills in the blanks assumed by those ellipses.
The Rural Alberta Advantage isn’t the type of band you’d expect to take three years between albums. At their core, they’re a folk trio and make songs that can put be put together in minutes—Nils Edenloff basically limits himself to the first eight chords a beginner learns on guitar, and the difference between some RAA cuts might just be a hitch in his strum or where he puts his capo. He writes simply worded lyrics about commonplace emotions triggered by often mundane events, and while the additions from Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt are crucial, the arrangements remain minimal.
A couple of quick points of reference for those uninitiated with The Rural Alberta Advantage; there’s probably a decent chance that you will be, too, given that they’ve largely flown under the radar over the past decade or so, despite being on Saddle Creek - perhaps it’s that clumsy mouthful of a name, eh? The first obvious parallel to draw is between the Toronto trio and the Band Of Horses that made Everything All the Time and Cease to Begin; they’ve not just got the energy and the abandon of Ben Bridwell’s men pre-Infinite Arms, but also the verve and intelligence of stylistic crossover that was so sorely lacking on the last couple of Horses records - no coincidence, surely, that that particular shift seems to have coincided with David Cameron’s announcement that he’s a fan of the band. The other comparison that’s been following The Rural Alberta Advantage for a while now is with Neutral Milk Hotel, primarily because frontman Nils Edenloff sounds not unlike Jeff Mangum. This new full-length, Mended with Gold, will do little to discourage such suggestions, but it should at least bring home the fact that there isn’t too much in the way of similarity between Edenloff’s outfit and Mangum’s formerly-reclusive men outside of his vocals; his lyrics are considerably less esoteric than Mangum’s, and instrumentally, his band try to shoot for invigorating heartland fare without sounding corny - it’s a balance they pull off more often than not this time around.
If we look at The Rural Alberta Advantage’s three albums as a planned trilogy, we see a resonance between the cover artworks of their debut, Hometowns, and this, their third album, Mended With Gold. The crisp, blue air of Hometowns is later dug up from the frozen ground to which it fell upon the first below-freezing night, painted black and gold, erected like a graffiti’d tree. Between these two works is Departing, whose cover depicts a road obscured by snow or fog.
The Rural Alberta Advantage have always rocked out more than descriptions of the "indie folk" trio would suggest. Their third album, especially, sounds like it was written with clubs full of sweaty fans in mind. Turns out that retreating to a remote cabin to write songs did not result in the kind of pastoral, mellow mood you might expect. Every delicate acoustic bit eventually turns into a big singalong crescendo, and even the most restful moments feel full of tension waiting to release.
The Rural Alberta Advantage have always concerned themselves with going away and coming back. Decided outsiders to the US market, they didn’t emerge from the fertile indie rock auger of Montreal; they met at an open mic in Toronto. Even Toronto was a dislocation for singer Nils Edenloff, and he filled the band’s first record with nostalgic heartbreak from the Western steppes of his childhood—imagery from places like Lethbridge and Frank, Alberta.
The Rural Alberta Advantage are best seen live, where their acoustic crescendos and Nils Edenloff's Jeff Mangum-esque vocal acrobatics impress most. By this third album—even more so than the previous—the persistent, swelling grandeur frequently amounts to exhaustion without payoff. It's not a bad LP, more a case of diminishing returns. (www.theraa.com) .