Pop Addict: The Rural Alberta Advantage’s Departing

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

The Rural Alberta Advantage: DepartingThe Rural Alberta Advantage: Departing (Saddle Creek, 3/1/11)

The Rural Alberta Advantage: “North Star”

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The Rural Alberta Advantage made a name for itself the old-fashioned way: by being good. In 2007, the Toronto-based trio self-released an impressive concoction of frenzied indie-folk rock with Hometowns. Set to a backdrop of erratic drum work, fuzzed-out electrics, and heart-strumming acoustics, as well as a flutter of harmonies from singers Nils Edenloff and Amy Cole, Hometowns explored themes of growing up, going out, moving away, and coming home. Perhaps most striking is Edenloff’s nasally, Jeff Mangum-like howl, evoking Neutral Milk Hotel’s gritty arrangements and lo-fi production.

After touring the hell out of the album in North America and Europe, some buzz began to build on the blogosphere, and it didn’t take long for people to notice that the Canadian band was indie’s newest best-kept secret — one well worth discovering. And so, in 2008, the band signed to Saddle Creek and re-released Hometowns with widespread distribution and to critical acclaim.

For any band that has garnered such high expectations, the sophomore slump is a dreaded thing. Few bands get past it, and more often than not, it can serve as the end of a band’s success. But it’s not the fairest of assessments. After all, the band only has one other recording to compare it to. But if that recording is a work of genius, then, naturally, the follow-up isn’t going to compare in a positive light (see Interpol, Tapes n’ Tapes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, etc.). It’s certainly a notion that the The Rural Alberta Advantage was hoping to avoid — and it does.

On March 1, The Rural Alberta Advantage returned with the brand-new Departing. Yet again, the band’s songs hit close to home, exploring themes of love, loss, and heartbreak, all ornamented by crisper, cleaner production. Everything that made Hometowns such a gem is back and full force on Departing, from the frantic drumming to the howling vocals, the minimal yet diverse instrumentation, and a number of gorgeously rendered harmonies.

The band never strays too far from what it perfected on its debut, but that is precisely why the album succeeds. Though there will be a time when The Rural Alberta Advantage will have to experiment and push itself into new musical territory, Departing is a perfect follow-up because it plays to the the strengths that the band was still finding on its debut.

“The Breakup” explores lost love, set to the tone of subdued keyboards and a catchy vocal melody; the punk-ish “Muscle Relaxants” features grizzled guitars, heart-thumbing drumming, and harmonies galore; and the exquisite “Stamp” showcases the talents of drummer Paul Banwatt perhaps better than anything on Hometowns. Meanwhile, songs like “Coldest Days” and “Good Night” let the band showcase its softer, more intimate side — something it balances perfectly with all of its grainy, raucous tracks.

But that’s not to say that the band hasn’t grown. With a tighter sound on display, Departing documents The Rural Alberta Advantage finding its way along the hard-to-navigate terrain of an ever-evolving genre. But it plays its cards right. There are no gimmicks, no postmodern deconstructionism, no greater-than-thou artistic pompousness; the band succeeds because it delivers honest, heartfelt songwriting. And for the moment, that’s all it needs to do to earn the respect of its peers and fans.

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