Thursday, March 3rd, 2011
Review of The Rural Alberta Advantage’s Departing
Vanessa HeinsIt’s fitting that there was on The Rural Albeta Advantage’s debut album Hometowns a song called “The Ballad Of The RAA” because really, theirs was a nearly perfect story. The Toronto trio went from sparsely-attended open mic nights around town through a whirlwind of buzz – including a glorious, crystalline moment in an packed Austin church – that saw them become critical and popular darlings, all on the back of that batch of perfect, almost bewilderingly-simple but heartfelt songs. If this were the feature film adaptation of their story, then the final scene might well have played out at Lee’s Palace in December 2009 with the band playing a jam-packed hometown homecoming show and basking in the love of friends and family, faded to black.
Real life, however, doesn’t get to just let the credits roll and short of disbanding, a sequel was guaranteed and a couple years on, has arrived in Departing. Now for some bands, saying that they’ve made the same record over again would be a slight but for The RAA, at least in this case, it’s meant as high praise. Their sonic signature was distinctive from day one, relying on just a handful of musical tools to bring their songs to life, and success hasn’t been converted into truckloads of new instruments to play with. They just took a break, took a breath, and got back to it.
On the similarities, Departing is still built on Nils Edenloff’s nasal rasp and battered acoustic guitar, Amy Cole’s humming keyboards and sweet harmonies and Paul Banwatt’s insane drumming; elements that might seem at odds with one another on paper yet are perfectly complimentary in practice. The songs are yearning and wistful, still informed by Edenloff’s past life as a young Albertan in love. Even so, Departing is far from redundant – it represents a further honing of the above elements, the sort that you only get from endlessly touring. The production is more consistent throughout the album – Hometowns sometimes bore the fingerprints of its drawn-out gestation – and the arc of the songs from start to finish feels more considered and fluid. And while it covers the same lyrical terrain as its predecessor, the emotional range is broader, featuring some of the band’s most gentle and raging moments. On an individual song basis, Hometowns might retain the edge in highlights but as a collection and an arc, Departing is every bit its equal if not better.
All that said, one has to wonder how much more mileage can be gotten from this formula which has served them so well thus far, both with regards to sound and songwriting. The tidiness of a trilogy aside, it’s hard to imagine a third record of this not entering diminishing returns territory and surely a band as talented as they would want to push their boundaries as well. That, however, is a deliberation for later. All that matters for now is that Departing, while not having the ineffable x-factor that comes with discovering one of your new favourite bands, is another superb record from a singular band and should be treasured.
The Rural Alberta Advantage play their biggest hometown show yet at The Phoenix on April 29. Paste, Spinner and The Wall Street Journal have interviews with the band, NPR a World Cafe session and Billboard coaxes an Abba cover out of them.
Video: Caribou – “Jamelia”
NOW, eye and The Waterloo Record talk to Karkwa in advance of their local appearances next week – March 5 at Lee’s Palace opening for Plants & Animals, March 11 at Wrongbar for Canadian Musicfest and an in-store at Sonic Boom at 9PM on March 12.