The Rural Alberta Advantage – ‘Departing’

Review by Chris Hampton

In 2008, The Rural Alberta Advantage released their debut album Hometowns, a memoir of growing up in small-town Canada that had a good chunk of the music world all-of-a-sudden enamoured. The trio charmed listeners with their mashed-up folk-pop and tales of homesickness dosed with a distinctly Albertan Canadiana. Three years on, the RAA have just released their follow-up, Departing, on Paper Bag in Canada and Saddle Creek in the States. Aptly named, Departing leaves behind the Kodachromed memories of singer Nils Edenloff’s North Albertan youth, now exploring how leaving is a valuable and storied experience in itself.

On first listen, Departing pares back the cutesy dual vocals, distilling that earnest, vulnerable character in Edenloff’s voice. If you’ve never heard RAA, Edenloff sings in the tradition of the great High and Nasallies; think of those venerated ones, the J.M.s, – Mangum and Mascis, Billy Corgan, and even their father before them, Neil Young. And it’s that distinct voice that gives him added weight as a storyteller – his heart sounds so stuck up his throat that every word bears incredible gravity and truth.

Though it’s easy to see Nils as the centre-piece on Departing, the songcraft between keyboardist Amy Cole and drummer Paul Banwatt is the album’s real landmark. For a release that files so easily under folk rock, these two manage some pretty interesting glitchrocky arrangements (‘The Breakup,’ ‘North Star’) – swelling synths, lush strings and plinking pianos fastened by some syncopated and heavily sampled beats. I’ve got a hunch that one of these two likes Mice Parade or Mum or, at the very least, owns a copy of Dntel’s Life is Full of Possibilities. 

In terms of a favourite? The calamitous, freight-car-jumps-the-tracks ‘Stamp,’ which gets Banwatt going every which way on the kit and really shows his proficiency as percussionist. ‘North Star’ is a close second.