Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing

Paper Bag

With a title like Departing it’s a surprise that Rural Alberta Advantage’s sophomore outing isn’t much of a well departure. After scoring a five-star indie-folk debut in Hometowns its followup comes with questions galore: Does the Toronto-via-Alberta combo evolve past its Wild Rose-centric narratives? Does the trio elect to complicate its deliciously minimal compositions? Can songwriter Nils Edenloff replicate or top songs such as “Edmonton” or “In the Summertime?” Further can he perform a chorus without going flat?

In short no. Departing doesn’t set out to destroy the RAA’s identity; rather it refines it culminating in an LP that’s soothingly familiar but deceptively nuanced. “Northstar” and “Coldest Days” for example find the band’s insta-addictive guitar melodies reimagined on piano to subtly breathtaking results. Elsewhere the bombast of “Muscle Relaxants” and the brisk howling “Stamp” blister with Hometowns ’ urgency but here co-vocalist Amy Cole and drummer Paul Banwatt’s additions blend so seamlessly that it’s hard to classify them as gritty. By the time the heart-shattering vocal harmonies of “Good Night” — an ode to Fort McMurray — arrive RAA’s expert if covert pacing reveals itself: Despite the drifting lull of opener “Two Lovers” this is a record that grips captivates and never lets go. At an economical 32 minutes Departing feels half its length; it demands an immediate re-listen upon conclusion.

Departing may not answer those sophomore-jinx questions but it’s proof-positive that Hometowns was no fluke. And for Edenloff it’s a bold proclamation that as a songwriter he has arrived.

Fast Forward Weekly: Coming into your sophomore album were you afraid of being typecast as “that Alberta band”?

Nils Edenloff: Well to a certain degree. At the heart of it I’m somebody that grew up in Alberta and that’s not going to change. And it took moving from Alberta to Toronto to realize the type of person that I ended up being and where I came from.

I mean I still vividly remember those two parts of the year — there’s the winter where it goes into the spring and the fall when it goes into winter. Those two points of the year they’re clearly defined — in Edmonton and specifically in Fort McMurray — and there’s something in the senses that you can feel. There’s a smell maybe. It’s those little small intricacies that have a special place in your heart.

Now that you’ve left what type of reception do you get here? I almost feel like your reception has been warmer in other provinces.

Really? I feel a different response in Alberta; I feel like it’s really warm. With the audience there’s a certain sense of pride about the songs. They’re about the places they know the memories they have — things we share in common. It may about places they’ve been things that they’ve experienced.

Departing fits in comfortably with Hometowns . Did you envision them as companion pieces?

Well I wanted to write something that began with [ Hometowns opener] “Ballad of the RAA” and ended with “Good Night.” And a lot of these go back to the same era as Hometowns but we didn’t find a way to properly do them justice. “Stamp” I remember we tried to work on it for Hometowns ; “Two Lovers” and “Barnesyard” didn’t work out either. But with the amount of time we spent on the road we gave them the time to incubate — it gave us time to crack the code for those songs. A lot of the time it’s finding what works for it.