When the Rural Alberta Advantage first released Hometowns on their own in 2008, it sure took off in a hurry. After being picked to be spotlighted in the eMusic Selects program—which highlights unsigned bands—the album became the best-selling record in Selects history. And with their success booming, Saddle Creek stepped in and snatched them up, and have now given Hometowns a proper release.
And the heat the album has received over the past year-plus is completely warranted. The trio—made up of Paul Banwatt, Amy Cole, and Nils Ederloff—craft something that is most easily identified as indie-folk. But it hardly has the laidback sway of many of the bands that fall under that genre tag. Instead, these songs are confessional but also propulsive, driving at you with speeding drums and howling vocals, even as guitars and keys lilt behind these louder sounds.
In fact, it is pretty rare to find an album that puts the drums as much on display as they are on Hometowns. They are way up in the mix and give each track a hot-blooded charge. The way they cut in and out of “The Dethbridge in Lethbridge” is stunning—Banwatt tumbling out fills and crashing cymbals, pausing just long enough for Ederloff to bleat out a hard-hitting line, before bursting out again to push the song along, almost as if the drums are pushing the song to go faster than it wants to.
Those drums also lend a variety to songs that might otherwise feel too similar. The cymbal work on “Don’t Haunt This Place” is much more muted, giving the song the haunting, late-night quiet it needs. “Drain the Blood” churns along on chugging rock drums that erupt in the chorus into a sweaty, rumbling pulse. And after an album of busy and intricate drums, the light touch on fragile closer “In the Summertime” is just as bracing as the loudest pounding the album has to offer.
In front of those drums, Mils Edenloff is a dynamic and engaging frontman. His tales of lives left behind, of places moved away from, of loves lost, are told with striking emotion, often through a nasal but tuneful shout that draws you in close. Throughout the record Ederloff is unafraid to go over the top, to belt these songs out with a red-faced strain, rather than to undersell the heartache and wanderlust in them. Even when he tones it down for, say, the wistful verses on “The Deadroads”, there is a want coating his voice that keeps up the urgency. And, along with all that urgent want and feverish sound, each song is thick with melody, as the subtler sounds between drums and voice fill that space with a warm, infectious haze that, upon repeat listens, reveal these songs to be much bigger and fuller than they might first sound.
The one thing this album may suffer from is overplaying the same thematic hand too often. While Edenloff’s songs surely seem heartfelt, sometimes it feels like they are all looking back in the same way. He clearly misses people, and is deep in reflection for times past on a lot of these songs, and to hear him sing about it to hear a voice laid bare, airing it all out. But you’re not always sure exactly what he’s airing out, and so as the songs pile up they start to feel like he’s stretched his past about as far as it can go on Hometowns.
That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t put his own touch on these songs. Lines like “...your open arms and open heart could never open much” are striking and unique, and these songs are filled with them. But the scope of Hometowns feels a little too narrow for such a dynamic sound. Still, the album is endlessly listenable and solid throughout. It deserves all the attention it’s gotten, and marks a bright start for a band that seems to have endless potential.