PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

The Rural Alberta Advantage: Mended With Gold

On third LP, Mended With Gold, the band pursues escape velocity with the most commitment yet, making the most bombastic and polished arrangements of their career.


The Rural Alberta Advantage

Mended With Gold

Label: Saddle Creek / Paper Bag
US Release Date: 2014-09-30
UK Release Date: 2014-09-30
Amazon
iTunes

The Rural Alberta Advantage have always concerned themselves with going away and coming back. Decided outsiders to the US market, they didn't emerge from the fertile indie rock auger of Montreal; they met at an open mic in Toronto. Even Toronto was a dislocation for singer Nils Edenloff, and he filled the band's first record with nostalgic heartbreak from the Western steppes of his childhood -- imagery from places like Lethbridge and Frank, Alberta. Perhaps the most telling line on either of the band's first two LPs, aptly titled Hometowns and Departing, was Edenloff's first line of their debut LP: "We invariably left the prairies." Life threw us forwards through a series of departures, they suggested, as we fought back towards an increasingly illusory point of beginning. Nostalgia made this process of leaving both better and worse. On third LP, Mended With Gold, the band pursues escape velocity with the most commitment yet, making the most bombastic and polished arrangements of their career, maybe an odd direction for the three members of the RAA who have by now all successfully left whatever it was they were leaving.

The litany of song titles on Mended With Gold hints at the attendant anxiety associated with the forever-departure model: "Terrified", "Runners in the Night", "To Be Scared", and "...On the Run" comprise more than a third of the album. Rural Alberta wouldn't be the first artist to make a career in the tension of leaving small towns, going to cities and feeling complicated about it -- Springsteen has been "on the run" from a fictitious Jungleland for almost four decades. The trope endures because it works. Geographic dissociation becomes coded language for other things: love and loss. Edenloff wails, "We're doing fine, we're doing alright" on the suitably urban "This City". The elision completes on subsequent track, one of their best, "On the Rocks", which opens with "let's rush to the city". Amy Cole, sadly marginalized a bit on Mended With Gold, appears in a brilliant duet to sing, "Our love was on the rocks the day we let it out," intimating that possession, stasis and departure might be well tied up in this discourse about coming and going. On "Runners in the Night", Edenloff muses, perhaps ironically, "If we can get home, we can get right." The return proves impossible, even on the album's best song and a geographic ode to the band's history, "Vulcan, AB", a town of just more than 1,800 people in Southern Alberta. Return to places like Vulcan happens in lyrics only. On "... On the Run", Edenloff countervails his wailing "My lord!" with a bridge where he promises, "But now we're going to grow up." It represents a sad promise.

Sonically, the band attempts to leave behind some of their bucolic qualities on Mended With Gold. Paul Banwatt, one of the best drummers in rock music, rages into his kit with lightning fills on "This City" and "All We've Ever Known". Sadly this effort occasionally goes to waste on song structures that lack the clarity and simplicity of the band's first two records. On "The Build", the Rural Alberta Advantage heads for the top of the room, without clarity of purpose. The record supposes itself bigger only for the sake of scale, a trade that emphasizes the brilliance of songs that don't follow this model of imperial arranging. "Vulcan, AB" holds its charm in its restraint, even as Edenloff unleashes his signature brand of unfolding visceral tragedy: "Going to break your heart, gonna grow up now, gonna try, gonna fight, gonna forget how." The bifurcation between the delicate and the brutal lays at the center of the Rural Alberta Advantage's best work. More than geography, plaintive tales of the pastoral or troubled ones about the cosmopolitan, it remains the quiet, slow descent of intimate relations that the band does best: Love forever on the rocks, foundering in the shoals.

Mended With Gold shines and wilts in equal measure. For each injection of bombast draws the band further and further from their essential qualities. And yet, this departure, too, was inevitable. Ever since the open mic in Toronto, the closing of the restaurant that forced them together as a band, the lyric dreams of the prairie, the Rural Alberta Advantage has been heading toward a moment like this. The RAA means to instruct us or, more generously, to simply meditate on the necessary perversions of growing up and getting away. The future always promised the building of a monument to our old selves. Application of shiny patches, the gold-lamé flecking the edges turns the project accidentally gaudy. Neither here nor there, past nor future, the band stands, instead, unsteady in the present.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.