Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Rural Alberta Advantage

This week's post will take a different tact from previous installments, by considering a relatively dated release in anticipation of a forthcoming new album – namely a look at 2008's Hometowns record by the Rural Alberta Advantage in advance of their March, 2011 effort, Departing. Readers can expect a review of that subsequent collection at that time. This approach isn't to suggest that every expected New Music Tuesdays reviewee will receive similar treatment, but retroactive examinations of previous efforts will be merely subject to the inclinations of this blog's author.

Interestingly enough – considering the band's moniker – the Rural Alberta Advantage (RAA) is based in Toronto, Ont., but the material presented on their full-length offering reflects their collective upbringings in their namesake province. Much like last week's profilees Lost in the Trees, this trio's work is tailor-made for the harsh reality of winter. However, rather than their predecessor's menacing and thematically dark presentations, the RAA is moreso unadorned – a stark and hardscrabble identity that lines-up well with Alberta's northern prairies.

Leading-in with the understated and self-referential "The Ballad of the RAA," the opener sets the stage for the group's journey across Canada's fourth-largest unit of governance, as lead singer and guitarist Nils Edenloff proposes their project swaps the "Rockies for the Great Lakes" and "Garneau (Alb.) for Dundas (Ont.)." Before progressing any further, listeners must first get real with the tone of Edenloff's vocals, which reside somewhere between sneer of Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum and the tangy wail of Lindsey Buckingham. It's not beautiful, but it is authentic, and when paired with the subject matter, is all the more appropriate.

The more snarly "Rush Apart" proceeds the baker's dozen collection of tracks' raucous centerpiece, "The Dethbridge in Lethbridge." It's driving and focused, while delivering its unsettling narrative in just over 2 minutes' time. The work of the three-person unit is most apparent here, through drummer Paul Banwatt's shifting fills and multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole complimenting Edenloff's pervasive sneer.

Meanwhile, Edenloff tones down the harshness of his vocals on "Don't Haunt This Place," which also feature pretty vocal compliments from Cole, but despite the hints of strings here, its no more warming than its preceding tracks. At the same time, while "The Deadroads" features Springsteen-style lyricism, its musical foundation is closer to that of Okkervil River or Southeast Engine than anything arranged by the E Street Band. Likewise, Edenloff comes closest to a Buckingham's-style approach – a la "Big Love" – on "Drain the Blood."

The album's most rambunctious contribution is the mid-set "Luciana," which for the first time features more extensive use of Cole's organ performance, coupled with low-register horns later on, before ceding much of the energy to the more subdued "Frank, AB." And late-appearing "Edmonton" is too deeply buried considering its quality, which is easily the record's second-best after "Dethbridge..."

Come for: "Dethbridge in Lethbridge"
Stay for: "Edmonton"
You'll be surprised by "The Deadroads"

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