Wednesday, February 13th, 2008
The Ballad Of The RAA
Photo by Marc Hodges
It’s still unclear to me if all three members of The Rural Alberta Advantage are ex-pats from the Princess Province (that’s the nickname, really) or just songwriter Nils Edenloff but whichever it is, they’ve all embraced his upbringing and experiences which inform every nook and cranny of their debut full-length, Hometowns.
Edenloff’s lyrics are rich with tales of Alberta both from the personal perspective of his upbringing in the northern region of the province and his wistful reminiscences of such from his new home in Toronto and from a more historical one with tales of its history such as the rockslide that buried the town in “Frank, AB” and frequently intertwining the two. The personalized historical travelogue is a concept that’s been used to great effect by Sufjan Stevens but the similarities end on paper – where Stevens’ projects are lushly orchestrated and more than a little precious, The RAA favours an aesthetic that’s spare, dry and a little brash. If you were to remix the record and pull every track besides Edenloff’s plaintive, Jeff Mangum-esque vocals and crashing acoustic guitar, it wouldn’t sound miles away from the finished product.
But those miles – or the few inches travel for the faders on the mixing board – are a crucial distance for within them lies the real magic of the record. Most songs are built around Edenloff but the contributions of his bandmates – drummer Paul Banwatt and vocalist/keyboardist Amy Cole – can’t be understated. Banwatt’s drumming brings just the right amount of energy, forcing the songs out of the folky vein they might otherwise settle into without overpowering them (though letting the folk in where appropriate) and Cole’s sweet harmonies are the ideal counterpoint to Edenloff’s rough edges. Add in the extra instrumental touches – the bright flourish of a trumpet, the low swell of a cello, the sleepy whirr of a combo organ – perfectly placed like colourful landmarks out the window of a long road trip, the sort you only see for a few seconds in passing but leave an indelible impression in your memory, and you’ve got an album that’s simple and simply wonderful.
Hometowns is still seeking distribution so there’s no precise release date at the moment but the band are setting out on a east coast tour starting tomorrow in my own hometown of Waterloo, Ontario and bringing a little bit of the prairies to the Maritimes over the next week and a bit. Their next Toronto show isn’t until March 27 at the Drake as part of this year’s Pitter Patter Festival. I Heart Music also gushed about the record this week, and has a copy to give away.
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don’t Haunt This Place”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Luciana”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Frank, AB”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Sleep All Day”
MP3: The Rural Alberta Advantage – “In The Summertime”
MySpace: The Rural Alberta Advantage
This week marks the tenth anniversary of one of the landmark records of indie rock, even to those who’d deny that there was such a thing as indie rock – Neutral Milk Hotel’s In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. Deaf Indie Elephants has compiled a list of ten ways to celebrate the even and Pitchfork has rounded up two period interviews with Jeff Mangum for your reading pleasure.
Billboard comes bearing news of a new set of Replacements reissues covering the band’s Twin-Tone releases. Now I know that my copy of Let It Be was itself a remastered reissue circa 2002 but I guess these new ones will again be remastered and all come with bonus materials. Look for them on April 22 and for another set, covering the Sire years, later in 2008. Maybe the remaster of Don’t Tell A Soul can scrape some of that horrid ’80s sheen from an otherwise underrated record.
Behold the first video from R.E.M.’s Accelerate, out April 1. You know, I really rather like this song and am optimistic about the record. The last time that happened was… um… 1996? Egads. R.E.M. are at the Molson Amphitheatre on June 8.
Also with a shiny new video – The New Pornographers, now with 200% more psychedelic animated Bejar. They’re at the Phoenix on April 9.
That “Toronto: Rock City” story in Spin which I mentioned (and gave the wrong page reference to) a few days ago is now on their website in regular HTML form, not just their fancy-schmancy digital magazine.
The writers strike is over! Finally. Now get back to writing my stories. I’m getting bored.