The Rural Alberta Advantage – [Album]

Friday, 24 July 2009

Hometowns have a unique way of existing, being different things for different people, all in one zip code. For Paul Banwatt, Amy Cole and Nils Edenloff, home is a song. Or thirteen. The trio forms the Rural Alberta Advantage, and they are the creators of whimsical, achingly honest indie rock piped straight from the essence of their native Alberta on Hometowns.

This album sings to all things Alberta; “Frank, AB” even nods to a devastating landslide in 1903. These kids know their history. But the album as a whole, with its tales of loves lost and considered, homes left behind and sweet, sweet Canada’s embrace are all set among a wilting backdrop of folksy guitars, drums that are front-and-center, and capricious synthesizers. And—like anyone’s feelings about their hometown—this album is ripe with differentiation.

Take the opener, “The Ballad of RAA,” that starts with jaunty drums and low melancholy snythesizers that sound like a chronically depressed Casio keyboard. Banwett’s vocals—the only other real addition to this stripped down song—sound like they’re working through a wringer, strained but determined. The song's simplistic styling is tinged with homesickness. Then we kick into “Rush Apart,” and a kick indeed it is. Breaking away from the melancholy of the opener, this is soulful in the way road trips through state parks make you wonder why you chose the dredge of the city. The country-flavored song keeps a steady beat, quick and rapid-moving, forced along by a acoustic guitar that refuses to be weighed by consequence. Listening, you feel out of breath, dizzy with delight; it’s a song you dance haphazardly to.

And it has to be mentioned before this review goes any further—this wonderfully acronymic band (RAA, for those of you playing the home version) are like a reincarnation of our lost friends Neutral Milk Hotel. From Banwatt’s scraping, nasal singing voice—no offense, it works here—to the instrumental composition to just the folksy, weatherworn feel of the music, it sounds like the early 90’s band all over again. “Dead Turnpike,” for example, opens with pounding drums quickly joined by tambourines and vocals that here perhaps more than anywhere else, sound exactly like Neutral Milk Hotel. The simple guitar solo is, in its simplicity, incredibly profound. And “Four Night Rider” hones NMH with quick crescendos and rapid moving instruments, but surpasses the aforementioned band with Miss Cole playing the part of accompanying female vocalist/partner in crime. It’s musical abandon in the wind with that one true love, driving all night to nowhere.

And that’s perhaps the glory of Rural Alberta Advantage. They are raw in their music to a nearly unheard degree, allowing themselves to expose their sadness, their lonely moments away from home—those mournful tunes are present, a good bulk of the album—but they don’t shy away from embarrassingly goofy happy moments either. Songs like “Four Night Rider” or “The Deadroads” almost require you to dance like an idiot in your living room. It’s a unrestrained giddiness most bands, even indie bands, shy away from because being that amount of stupid-happy isn’t hip. Better to sing about being depressed. Most of us in our twenties and thirties think we’re too cool for that kind of happy, and we’re a little less for that thought process. But RAA, they’ve bottled that unrestrained excitement that’s almost child-like and unabashedly put it into song.

While it’s not just an album of happy tunes—works like “In the Summer Time” and “The Air” are decidedly kicked back—it is all beautifully done, gathering together the experiences of two of Alberta’s native sons and one of her daughters in a loving tribute to home. If you ever loved Neutral Milk Hotel, folk music, raw lyricism, happiness, or Canada, this album is a must.



The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Frank, AB” – [mp3]

The Rural Alberta Advantage – “Don't Haunt This Place” – [mp3]


Hometowns is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

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