Album Review: The Rural Alberta Advantage

Album: Hometowns
Artist: The Rural Alberta Advantage
Label: Saddle Creek
Out: July 7th

If you're a regular reader, you may be perplexed by the lack of the word "due" directly above this sentence. As part of the new and improved Animal Noises which we're always working to present you, I'm going to try and undertake two album reviews per week, one in advance of its release, and the other slightly after it comes out. For now, we'll say this is how it'll be, but things may change with time. We start this new concept with The Rural Alberta Advantage's debut album, Hometowns. You may not recognize the name-- neither did I just a week ago. Still, the fact is that this band has risen the buzz wave from virtual obscurity, and embarked on a startling and meteoric rise to notoriety. Hell, even Pitchfork gave them an 8.0, something mostly unheard of for a band's initial effort. Does it live up to the hype? Before we go on, I'll say yes, in just about every way, it does.

The album starts with "The Ballad of the RAA," a song which initially has you thinking you're dealing with an indie pop act. Then Nils Edenloff's voice kicks in, and you are floored. Or at least I was. I hate to piggyback on the statements of so many others who've described this band, but it sounds like Neutral Milk Hotel set to fun and catchy pop backgrounds. The other main difference is the heavier country influence. At first glance, you may mistake "Rush Apart" to be a track about the great western United States, and it's a fair guess, as I thought similarly. However, this eventual barn-burner was actually brought to you by the middle of Canada, despite its seemingly American charm. Keeping with the energy and electricity gained from the previous track, "The Dethbridge in Lethbridge" is equally explosive, if not more so. What makes this, and every other track standout, is the diversity of styles. One second, we hear shades of gypsy rock, then noise, post-punk and of course, the eventual Elephant 6 Collective psychadelia and pop. To steady the pace a bit, "Don't Haunt This Place" utilizes a drum set-violin attack to perfection, while incorporating the first real appearance of Amy Cole's haunting, yet bright voice. Cole is the perfect compliment to Edenloff, but the band is savvy enough not to overdo it.

"The Deadroads" is another song that begins quite deceptively. Jumpy drums, a catchy-as-hell acoustic guitar part, form something that sounds like The Shins for about five seconds, before shifting gears completely. It opens up at all the right moments, letting the light of Cole's voice once again illuminate the right moments, as Edenloff's Mangum-esque pipes make up the real core. "Drain the Blood" intrigues next as it starts off one part Get Up Kids, one part Decemberists, prior to spiraling constructively out of control. Excuse all of the conflicting references, but honestly, with the amount of things going on here, it's really the only way I can truly get the point across about what's happening. And the confusion keeps on coming. "Luciana" evokes Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and maybe even some Brand New- a baffling juxtaposition if I've ever heard one. And then the horns kick in, a la "Holland, 1945". Is Edenloff really Jeff Mangum? "Frank, AB" provides another fairly compelling case for that theory (which I completely made up, though believe slightly). The song trots along while never losing the momentum it has been steadily gaining. It's an interesting attribute to this record-- it's ability to retain its energy even when slowing the tempo or even dropping out instrumentation altogether for a gorgeous a capella interlude.

Speaking of slowing tempos, "The Air" does just that, creating a light and pleasant ballad, while hitting on themes of folksy love over some beautiful guitar work. What it gives way to is equally appealing, though in a different manner. By this album's definition, "Sleep All Day" is another ballad, however, it marches at a fairly quick pace and sounds quite active in comparison to the previous song. Cole's voice makes a conservative, but appropriate return after a few tracks off, to chime in on lost love here. Obviously it's a signal of things to come, as you'll notice immediately on the following song, "Four Night Rider," where she plays quite the central role. It could possibly be a continuation of "Sleep All Day," but of course, looking towards the positive in comparison. "Edmonton" reveals itself next, an obvious choice for a song title, given the band's name. Organs and a strong snare drum carry this one into Arcade Fire territory, just another band on the astounding list of similarities we can attribute. "In the Summertime" brings the fantastic ride to a somber, but appropriate end. Everyone has grown a bit weary from the bouncing-off-the-walls trip we've endured, but I'm thankful to have gone through it.

If you're at all like me, you uttered something to the effect of "holy crap" upon your completion of Hometowns. Familiar, brazen and scintillating, I could not have imagined what I was about to hear before pressing play, nor was I able to wrap my head fully around it once finished. So much sound. So much exuberance. As I stated earlier, the influences here are staggering, yet the band has managed to mesh them all together for what turned out to be a surprisingly excellent album. And it grows on you-- which is a scary thing to conceive if you felt as I did after the first listen. Could The Rural Alberta Advantage and their freshman effort, Hometowns be contenders for a prestigious end-of-year honor? I won't say no. It would be a fitting end to a whirlwind fairy tale of a year for these guys. Similar artists (like you need this list) most obviously include Neutral Milk Hotel, The Decemberists and Clay Your Hands Say Yeah (and a lot of others).

Rating: 9.0/10

Best Track: "Luciana"

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