Departing, the second studio LP from trio the Rural Alberta Advantage, rises to the top of the class of Canadian twee-folk. Upon first listen, it sounds like all of the rest—cutesy vocals, romantic lyrics, peppy poppy guitars. But on Departing, the guitars are massive, the lyrics are gorgeous and the vocals are astonishingly expressive.
Romanticism is hard. The wrong combination of delivery and phrasing can (and most often does) result in either saccharine mawkishness or disaffected defensiveness. But the Rural Alberta Advantage nails it in a brazen display of earnestness that some are going to deride as excessively maudlin and hackneyed, just because snark is often confused with incisiveness.
The nasal voice of vocalist/guitarist Nils Edenloff grinds the album’s tone. It’s a reedy, flaxen thing, and Edenloff squeezes all of the emotiveness he can out of it. This is at once the biggest impediment to accessibility, and also why the songs stick the dismount and avoid cloyingness.
It helps that the lyrics are at once clever, original, gorgeous and sweet. Departing starts with a man resolving to hold his lover so tight that he hopes her heart will withstand the pressure on her circulatory system. That is an amazing image, and it’s a unique blend of the emotional and the anatomical in a way that hasn’t been overused a million times. This is the kind of shamelessly romantic record that uses the phrase “hold you tight” as much as Arcade Fire talked about “the kids” on its last album.
Like all truly romantic albums, Departing has an impassioned edge. This separates it from the self-conscious twee pop of its Canadian brethren, mostly content to lie behind the face of soft harmonies and cooed vocals. Not the Rural Alberta Advantage. Paul Banwatt’s drums recall the National and the Walkmen in their intensity, and the interplay between keyboardist Amy Cole’s harmonies and Edenloff’s wheezy lead vocals never loses its sense of drama. The songs build in earnestness and spectacle, so much so that even though this is still bare-bones power trio pop, at times it sounded a bit… Foo Fighters? Songs like “Tornado ’87″ are pocket rockers that derive as much drama from the thrill of earnestness as the National does from modern-day futility.
The closer “Good Night” eschews the muscular dynamics that the Rural Alberta Advantage flirts with throughout the album, in favor of a somber guitar ballad that sounds like a campfire song. Lines like “Please look after my sister, let her know that I miss her tonight,” aren’t necessarily clever or punny, but they cut deep. This is the sheer face of unabashed romanticism, and it absolutely works. Departing‘s soul doesn’t rest in rock. The Rural Alberta Advantage has proved it can harness sound for passion’s sake, but at its heart, it’s still a little old Canadian indie band.