Thursday, October 2, 2014

Rural Alberta Advantage Runs In Gold

The Rural Alberta Advantage
Coming together as The Rural Alberta Advantage in 2005, singer-songwriter Nils Edenloff, percussionist Paul Banwatt, and multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole have made some steady progress since their self-titled debut. Expect to see more than a few critics point to their newest release, Mended With Gold, as the elusively near-perfect alternative folk rock they have been striving to achieve.

On the whole, Mended With Gold is a fast-paced and briskly nostalgic album, with an undeniabe flair as untamed as it was when  Edenloff started to write it last spring. On the advice of friends, he rented a remote cottage up in the Bruce Peninsula, which is several hours northwest of Toronto.

"It turned out to be a pretty terrifying place to be alone with your thoughts — locals told me to watch out for black bears, the heat wasn't working and at night it sounded like the cottage was surrounded by wolves," says Edenloff. "I slept with a pocket knife at arm's reach."

Looking back, Edenloff laughs at some of the lines his seclusion inspired. He even attributes much of the track To Be Scared to his memory of the location. He didn't work on it at the cottage, but all the memories he had of it. The first night was especially wearisome when he arrived there, all alone, well after midnight.

The song itself, one of Edenloff's favorites, is uncharacteristically sparse compared to much of the album. His voice cracks more than the twangy quakes that characterize the bigger, fuller compositions. Terrified, in particular, is a riveting ramped-up exploration of unaffected lovers.

The song itself is one of several that were written fresh and road tested while on tour. As the band toured, they adjusted the song based on live reactions from the audience, which their sound engineer recorded every night. They dissected every section, from the hum of the guitar to the bass line before ever making it into the studio.

The studio version was also one of three tracks the band premiered at Massey Hall last July. It plays alongside proven tracks like Luciana and Tornado '87, that helped put The Rural Alberta Advantage on the map as something more than a scrappy indie band.

The live session is a great introduction into the band's expansive and growing repertoire. What's different on Mended With Gold is most of the tracks embrace the idea that life is an exercise in breaking and repairing things. Ultimately, it's the breaks and repairs that make the object more valuable, not less so. (The title was inspired by the Japanese art of Kintsugi.)

There are plenty of places to feel the pain and promise of such events. On The Rocks, a song that the band has been reworking for a long time, brings this theme to life with its well-worn and weary rumble and an emotive imperfect croon from Edenloff with Cole backing to make it an informal duet.

The pain of it is the relationship ending. The promise is the acceptance of it. It's one of several tracks where the sentiment sneaks up on the unsuspecting — people who put too much faith in convention and complacency. But in keeping with the theme, Edenloff and company say that it's all part of life, giving Mended With Gold a uniquely courageous feel.

The entire album is worth a listen, but standouts include the bolstering Runner In The Night, the dashingly urgent All We've Ever Known, the soars and breakdowns of The Build, and the sober, straightforward Vulcan, AB. If nothing else, the latter track will hook you to this band.

Mended With Gold By The Rural Alberta Advantage Strikes 9.0 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Mended With Gold is an intentionally near-perfect album crafted out of imperfect tracks that have been broken and then mended with a clear regard for indie rock. With its rootsy undertones and insatiable swagger, The Rural Alberta Advantage has discovered a bit about life in trying to understand themselves. It's often soaring and intimate at the same time.

You can find Mended With Gold by The Rural Alberta Advantage on Amazon or download the album from iTunes. You can also find Mended With Gold at Barnes & Noble. For tour information, visit the band on Facebook.
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