The Rural Alberta Advantage Mended With Gold

[Saddle Creek; 2014]

Styles: fall, pumpkin spice, cool air, driving with the windows down
Others: Neutral Milk Hotel without the fantasies, The Decemberists without the pretense,

If we look at The Rural Alberta Advantage’s three albums as a planned trilogy, we see a resonance between the cover artworks of their debut, Hometowns, and this, their third album, Mended With Gold. The crisp, blue air of Hometowns is later dug up from the frozen ground to which it fell upon the first below-freezing night, painted black and gold, erected like a graffiti’d tree. Between these two works is Departing, whose cover depicts a road obscured by snow or fog. A fulcrum or tether linking one and three. Seldom is the trajectory of a group’s musical career reflected so succinctly in each album’s visual avatar than in the work of the RAA.

And it all began with Hometowns, an album made as if to exactly conjure summer’s becoming autumn. The snappy drums, the coarse guitar, the small keyboards, the harmonies threatening to kill you. What a debut! Forgive the easy comparisons to Jeff Mangum or the rawer works of The Decemberists and this band could be a heartwinner. I mean, they are. Hometowns is a classic.

Mended With Gold follows the path plainly laid out on Departing. It’s dimmer, though trimmed with the sunlight that had once seemed to inexhaustibly pour from the band. The sense of returning to the hometown is never overbearing, but the thought does come to mind. And if Departing sounded as if absurdly-energetic drummer Paul Banwatt was holding back, then Mended With Gold corrects this modesty a bit. However, even though the band’s sound is fleshed out more than it was on Departing, there still exists a lack, which perhaps indicates that this is not necessarily a good direction for them. But fine, that’s fine.

Some scattered thoughts:

“45/33,” “All We’ve Ever Known,” “Terrified” and “On The Rocks” are examples of the RAA expanding their sound in successful and emotionally charged ways.

“Vulcan, AB” is a lovely sequel to “Frank, AB” from Hometowns. I’ve listened to them back to back a few times. Try it at home.

“Runners In The Night” and “To Be Scared” are more bland than anything else. Where is that book I was reading? Ah, on the table.

The album is good. I like Hometowns better, but I recommend this. I recommend the RAA in total, really.

Links: The Rural Alberta Advantage - Saddle Creek

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