For Toronto-based band The Rural Alberta Advantage, music has always been a work in progress. Perhaps it’s been something that they’ve worked through – starting off humbly and being selected as one of eMusic’s top rising bands before signing to Saddle Creek in 2009. The trio that consists of singer Nils Edenloff and musicians Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt released Hometowns to a small audience and since that time have realized more and more fans comimg aboard. It’s now a few years later and with Departing their music sounds progressively on pace for great things as they’ve aptly adapted their sound in a way that it sounds fresh, inviting and often, invigorating. So while the latter features a conventional look at the inception that brought them together, Departing is a swift second album that combines the band’s best aspects with the growth and maturity they’ve developed as a full touring band.
Edenloff’s voice is still the central piece that either bridges the music together or destroys it entirely, depending on the listener. Personally, his projection comes off as a natural display of his singing ability and there’s not much to complain about, really. On songs like “Coldest Days,” Edenloff’s voice is a triumphant pairing to the music’s subtle piano line and acoustic guitar. Banwatt’s drums play a forceful role in that they are the band’s heartbeat through it all. The songs swell with rhythmic patterns that are played either on a basic tom drum (as done on the aforementioned song) or through a carefully portrayed drum set. But while each member ensures that their respective parts comes to life, the trio’s chemistry is what really bounds Departing into something both great and sonically visceral. Where Hometowns lacked in overall production and steam it made up for in heart but on Departing, everything seems to come into focus at the right time.
For The Rural Alberta Advantage, a compelling sound has always been at the mainstay of their music. Often blending between the rock The Decemberists create, and of course, there’s the comparison to Neutral Milk Hotel, their brand of music is a tight-knit one that is catapulted by a strong companionship. On “Tornado” the band showcases a magnificent trait in being able to create a whirlwind of sound that depicts the title with grand impression. Edenloff sings about hearts breaking and the chilly aftermath but with music that simply breathes life – brisk, striking and vigorous – the moments seem to pass much more earnestly.
The band’s lyrical wordplay continues to encircle the cold winters that happen through relationships and how love can be equally moving and devastating. The opening song, “Two Lovers,” embraces the joyous partnership lovers can share and how getting stuck together can be such a beautiful thing. With a wistful guitar and stomping drums, the music sways with a fluid style in that everything is pieced together by discerning hands. In fitting fashion, the following song is “The Breakup” and immediately, it’s upbeat and not nearly as pleasant as the opening sweetness of “Two Lovers.” Dissimilar styles – while both still heavily wrapped in the folk-rock that the band loves – they each convey a confident and strong band at the helm. The latter is intensified with Banwatt’s intrepid drumming and although Edenloff is singing about the end, the music’s toe-tapping skill makes for a compelling listen.
As expected, Cole appears just briefly to offer vocals on a few songs and she gently contributes some of the best on “Good Night”’s closing sentiments. Departing is obviously about moving from one space to another but more so, it’s also about embracing the opportunities around us and improving on them. There’s no denying that Departing is miles ahead of where the band was a year ago and while die-hards will love Hometowns for a long time to come, Departing is absolutely the band’s strongest work to date.