Although 2008 tour de force Hometowns (QRO review) ended on the plea, “When we’re middle aged / Tell me that I loved you like a renegade,” the latest album from Canada’s The Rural Alberta Advantage seems to have transcended summer-loving teen romance, and moved on to the harsh winter of an ailing love affair.
The aptly named Departing marks a swift turn for the band that took the continent by storm with that aforementioned debut disc. Whereas the latter basked in a fittingly upbeat and carefree environment, this latest album takes a heavier emotional tone. What’s perhaps most notable about this shift is that aside from a couple of different keyboard settings and a few more vocals from Amy Smith, the RAA’s makeup has totally remained the same. The diversity between the two albums, then, is undoubtedly owed to the bands best feature. The ‘minimalistic’ nature of what is largely an acoustic trio allows for what would otherwise be diluted aspects to flourish in the spotlight. This quality means that, for example, the raspy, Jeff Magnum-esque vocals on “Two Lovers” become extraordinarily magnified, just as their likenesses were on “In an Aeroplane Over the Sea”.
Although that slower, transparently optimistic number kicks things off, the band soon drives into “The Breakup”, and the emotional tone revs up along with the musical tempo. Cole’s quick keys and Paul Bandwatt’s persistent beats are only further upped when singer/guitarist Nils Edenloff picks up the electric for the first time on “Muscle Relaxants”. Yes, there are moments of uncertainty early on, as there surely are in any break-up. The band and the emotion, though, really hit their stride towards the middle of the record. “Northstar” marks a mellowing out of sorts, and the darkly hopeful number acts as Departing‘s answer to Hometowns‘s masterful “Don’t Haunt This Place”. Its resolute piano, percussion and vocals come together unlike any other song on the record, while it and the fury of succeeding song, “Stamps”, see the album’s protagonists finally proceed from their fork in the road.
Those steps forward aren’t necessarily positive or definitive. The two lovers weave in and out of each other’s lives in a constant state of withdrawal, sometimes even relapsing – “Tornado 87” and another standout, “Barne’s Yard”, respectively. Ultimately, though, it’s the soft spoken elegance of “Coldest Days” that acts as a line in the sand – or in this case the frost – before Edenloff cries: “Goodnight to the Alberta advantage / I’m leaving just like we planned it…” Amid rumours of an even bigger departure, The Rural Alberta Advantage have managed to piece together the best Canadian album of 2011, and perhaps beyond.
MP3 Stream: “North Star”