Review Summary: Genuine, unique vocals telling heartfelt narratives of rural Canada- what else could you possibly ask for?
First listens are very important. I’m sure everyone has that one album that the first time they heard it, it just struck them. POW! (The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place
). WAM! (OK Computer
). BAM! (As The Roots Undo
). That last one might hurt a little more than the rest, but we’ve all had that feeling. Maybe it was more because of my emotional state at the time of first listen, but The Rural Alberta Advantage
gave me one of those feelings; like, “Hey, you’re gonna really like this album for a really long time.” Hailing from none other than Alberta, Canada, (I didn’t see it coming either), the RAA are an unsigned indie-rock band on the rise. On first listen, it struck me how similar Hometowns is to the indie behemoths Neutral Milk Hotel
's mangum opus In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
. If by some unfortunate accident I had gone blind before listening to this, it would have been difficult to differentiate between Hometowns
and a new NMH record with more percussion. While Hometowns
is very similar to this eminent classic, the RAA have a way to go before they reach this sublime status.
To reiterate myself and put it simply, this sounds strikingly similar to NMH with a few quirks here and there. One of the largest differences is the percussion. One of this album’s greatest strengths is the driving force behind almost every one of their songs- the drums. “Don’t Haunt This Place” is a distinct example. Almost reminiscent of The National
, the drum work is superb. While I remain on the subject of “Don’t Haunt this Place,” I may as well mention another one of the quirks that is a little more polarizing- the duel vocals. Amy Cole makes herself known throughout Hometowns
with her addition of backup vocals. While this may appeal to some, I found it to be a hindrance. The RAA’s intimate and natural sound feels cluttered when Amy’s voice is added.
Besides, anything that encumbers hearing lead singer’s Nils Edenloff’s vocals can’t be too valuable, right? His heartfelt and genuine voice resembles that of Jeff Mangum’s note for note, hence the similarity between the RAA and NMH. Describing himself as a “non-singer’s singer,” Nils’ voice is perfect for the tales of his bucolic Canadian roots. Borderline folksy at times, his narratives make you wish you grew up in a small Canadian one horse town. This becomes absolutely clear on the heartbreaking “Frank AB,” an anecdotal song about a mining town tragedy that buried the town of Frank. Nils’ vocals adequately convey the heartbreak, “Under the rubble/ the mountain that tumbled/ I'll hold you forever/ I'll hold you forever.” Another touching moment on Hometowns
comes in on the closer, “In the Summertime.” Nils’ coos "And once in a while/ I know our hearts beat out of time/ and once in a while/ I know they'll fall back in line.” His lyrics, while not terribly complex or dense, are light enough to be easily comprehended while being heavy enough to convey his message. Some other notable tracks are “Four Night Rider,” with its powerful percussion, and the breathtaking “Luciana.”
Where this album falls just inches short is in the diversity division. While the Rural Alberta Advantage establishes a great rhythm and flow in Hometowns
, it could have prospered from a little more variety. Don’t be mistaken though, Hometowns
has staying power. The genuine vocals, appealing storytelling, and overall spontaneity and explosiveness will keep anybody coming back for sure. This was the case for me anyway. That introduction up there was written about four weeks ago; Hometowns is still a regular play. All I can do now is pray that the Rural Alberta Advantage does not follow the same self-destructive path as Neutral Milk Hotel.
The Deathbridge in Lethbridge