Music Reviews

The Rural Alberta Advantage Departing

(Saddle Creek) Buy it from Insound Rating - 9/10

The Rural Alberta Advantage may have struck gold with the first full-length, Hometowns, but three years on, their second album, Departing, takes that musical success to an entirely new level. There's no mythical sophomore slump to be found on Departing. There's no hint of a lackadaisical approach: Departing is indomitable in sound and spirit.

With Departing, The Rural Alberta Advantage seem less confined to the Willa Cather’s prairie writings. It's as if the band uprooted their sound, and they've sent it to live in the city for a few years. There's something more metropolitan about this record, and it’s hard not to be intrigued by that.

The songwriting is still easy to pinpoint as being The Rural Alberta Advantage. There is no great shift here in those terms. There is, however, a new-found sense of maturity, but it never gets in the way of emotionally charged songs. Everything's been shot with new energy and aggression: The drumming is fierce, the guitars are sharp, and just about everything comes together to form a record that's impenetrably solid.

The instrumentation's been shaken up from Hometowns, the lyrics are as emotionally charged as ever, and the dynamics aren't lost to the pace. There are some clear improvements in the execution here, but they’re not so extreme as to turn The Rural Alberta Advantage into another band. This is the same band, but they’ve adopted more keyboards, more drums, more guitars — a denser sound, overall — but somehow managed to cut out the unnecessary bits.

That’s probably because The Rural Alberta Advantage really know how to end a song. Nothing feels too short, and nothing feels too long, and when the natural progression of a song comes to its logical conclusion, the band's not putting up a fight to keep it alive.

The album’s flow is brilliant — the arrangement of the whole thing is bold and effective, and the pace varies enough to keep a continuous listen interesting. But there are some tracks here that stand out above others. Two Loves is the very strong opening that a great album needs. It introduces the band’s newly found pacing, but it doesn’t feel stilted or overwrought.

Under the Knife is as “classic” as the band can get with a new sound. There’s something surprising about talking about a band’s second album as invoking a “classic” first, it must be said. Stamp is absolutely ferocious, but somehow, it serves quite effectively as the side B turning point.

Barnes' Yard includes some exciting vocal pacing and adds a final gasp of exhilaration to the album before it takes a soft turn at the end. Along those lines, Good Night is probably the only weak point on the album. It’s a wonderful closer, but it breaks the flow so close to the end of the album that it’s a bit distracting. It’s a fine enough song, but perhaps an EP is the best spot for this one.

Departing is the strong second album bands aim for but so often miss. It’s exciting in its pacing, invigorated in its writing, and illustrious in its instrumentation. It’s not mad — nor, indeed, prairie-mad — to think that this is an early contender for album of the year lists.