The Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing

The Rural Alberta Advantage’s 2008 debut Hometowns was a rare out-of-nowhere surprise – a self-released gem that slowly, organically found its audience. Fans will find plenty to love in follow-up Departing as well – provided that the trio’s ragged charm wasn’t their only appeal.

Frontman Nils Edenloff shoulders an even greater share of the load on Departing, the sparse mix leaving a wide berth for his reedy vocals. Edenloff’s nasal tone inevitably recalls Jeff Mangum (it’s probably the prairie accent) but thanks to a lessened reliance on raw guitar strumming the Neutral Milk similarities have receded somewhat. The Advantage sweetens the package with Amy Col’s cooing counterpoints and Paul Banwatt’s restrained drumming.

Edenloff’s songwriting is in fine form, while his presentation takes a turn for the polite. The album has its share of rock-out moments – the fuzzed-out hoedown “Muscle Relaxants” and the triple-time spaghetti western “Stamp” spring to mind – but Departing is both bracketed and defined by the subdued maturity of tracks like “Two Lovers” and “Good Night.” The RAA originally sounded like an indie rock band that would be equally at home in a coffeehouse. Departing tilts the balance enough that they might now struggle to be heard above the bar patrons. Said another way, Hometowns likely caught the ear of Saddle Creek through its resemblance to a young Conor Oberst. One album later, the band has already progressed to latter-day Bright Eyes terrain.

That’s hardly a complaint – there’s not a single clunker among Departing‘s ten tracks, and a wealth of memorable moments, like the assured, insistent centerpiece “Tornado.” And we haven’t even gotten to unbridled energy of “Barnes’ Yard,” which evokes teenage hormones and a sense of place (“We’re broken down lovers in the city of oil”) better than any song in memory. It also leaves me wanting to check the floorplan of typical Alberta housing, as it contains one of several lines recounting basement hijinks (“Your brother’s in the basement, doing hot knives”), a reference which also doubles as a sly nod to Bright Eyes.

Edenloff’s not the most prolific cat, and to date he’s confined his sonic palette and lyrical concerns within a fairly tight range, pulling in the reins a bit without applying much polish. So far, that’s working to his Advantage.

The Rural Alberta Advantage
[Saddle Creek]