The Rural Alberta Advantage isn’t the type of band you’d expect to take three years between albums. At their core, they’re a folk trio and make songs that can put be put together in minutes—Nils Edenloff basically limits himself to the first eight chords a beginner learns on guitar, and the difference between some RAA cuts might just be a hitch in his strum or where he puts his capo. He writes simply worded lyrics about commonplace emotions triggered by often mundane events, and while the additions from Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt are crucial, the arrangements remain minimal. But the long incubation makes sense, as their best music tends to emerge only after a kind of latency period—what initially sounds and feels small ends up resonating over time.
Characters detailed in RAA songs are often in danger of having emotional catastrophe sneak up on them, brought to light by an ex’s keys or the encroachment of hopelessness in a small town. After an overly muted sophomore release in 2011’s Departing, Edenloff wisely sought out more immediate threats to his security while writing Mended With Gold. Taking on the Ontario Rural Disadvantage of Bruce Peninsula, he was subject to the unpredictable cold, as well as the occasional black bear and wolf milling about. There isn’t much lyrical evidence of his Bear Grylls method acting—“To Be Scared” and “Runners in the Night” still speak of more of existential crises than primitive fight-or-flight—but if RAA gained confidence by surviving in the wilderness and recognizing how precious and fleeting our time on earth can be, it’s manifested in what is, by a wide margin, their boldest and most ambitiously recorded album.
The format of Rural Alberta Advantage hasn’t changed; you still get Edenloff’s pine-needle tone, Banwatt’s hyperactive drumming on a minimal kit, and the occasional wispy harmony or simple keyboard texture from Cole. It often recalls the performative recklessness that marked their enduring debut Hometowns—however, the rickety, ramshackle recording has been replaced by a mix that makes RAA sound like a proper rock band. For the first ten seconds of opener “Our Love…”, Edenloff’s voclas and palm-muted acoustics are as thin as ever, but the rest of the band comes in furiously thrashing, and although Mended With Gold doesn’t always match that pace, even the quiet moments lunge out of the speakers.
The production certainly plays a role in this, but RAA’s new strike-first and strike-often musician is due to the band troubleshooting the #1 issue of Departing, which was the baffling marginalization of Banwatt. They haven’t released an album since Jayson Gerycz joined Cloud Nothings, and here it sounds like Banwatt is trying to retake his spot as having the highest “value over replacement drummer” in indie rock, a guy who singlehandedly elevates otherwise standard rock songs into something proprietary. If you turn your ear a certain way, the massed choruses of “Terrified” and “To Be Scared” echo the ho-heys of arena folkies like the Lumineers or Of Monsters and Men, though their rusticity and earnestness projects from the inside-out. One can assume Banwatt draws on the pent up stress from his day job as an intellectual property lawyer to ensure the anxiety of Edenloff’s lyrics project from the inside-out as well, and numerous songs on Mended With Gold are custom built for him as a showcase—the second half of “On the Rocks” gives way to a extremely loud drum solo, “All We’ve Ever Known” is damn near blast-beat folk, whereas “The Build” is pretty self-explanatory. Regardless of your tastes, if you care about drums at all, Mended With Gold is a must-listen.
But while Mended With Gold gives the Rural Alberta Advantage their most broad and expansive sound, the lyrics are at their most broad as well. Edenloff sounds more like In the Aeroplane Over the Sea-era Jeff Mangum than Jeff Mangum himself these days, which only emphasizes how his increasingly plainspoken lyrics lack the distinct character that made Hometowns such a subtle pleasure. From the titles alone, you can predict what “Our Love…”, “On the Rocks”, and “This City” are getting at, which more represent generalizations of relationship impasses than lived-in descriptions of them, though the latter possesses distinctly Canadian rhyming of “toque” with “rust-covered coupe.” Still, it’s only an occasional cut against their charms—RAA don’t have the element of surprise like they did on the originally self-released Hometowns, and it doesn’t slowly ingratiate the way Departing did, but Mended With Gold proves Edenloff’s songs of lost love can sneak up on you even when the music hits you square on the chin.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1s6efn6