Author: Stephen Carradini
The Rural Alberta Advantage wrote two of my favorite songs of 2009: "Don't Haunt This Place" and "The Dethbridge in Lethbridge."Both tunes off "Hometowns" rattled and shook with a frantic abandon, despite the fact that they were both alt-folk songs at heart, and one of them was supposed to be depressing.Having gotten some of their spitfire out of the way, the band wisely eschewed an attempt at "Hometowns Pt. II." They instead revealed "Departing," a somber record that could springboard them past "one-and-done" blog-wonder status by alienating lots of fickle bloggers and cementing real fans.The gripping qualities that bloggers originally perked up for were the band's wild energy and disregard for any vocal conventions. Nils Edenloff's pinched yelp smeared itself all over the tunes in the debut; here, he's much calmer, because "Departing" is a sad album. Its primary contents are not bottled frustration, but resigned wistfulness. They couldn't get out of their hometown in the first record; now they can't get back."Good Night" is the tired heart of the disc, with Edenloff dropping his voice low and drawling over a calm acoustic guitar. His female accompaniment repeats the titular phrase, driving the weary point home. "Barnes' House," although speedy in tempo, is a rumination on the perceived perfection of childhood lives in full view of how terrible the resulting years showed it really to be. The lyrics throughout are much more important and memorable than the music, which is a shift from the debut album as well.The skittering "Muscle Relaxants" will remind fans of "Dethbridge in Lethbridge" melodically, which is a welcome break from the chilled-out proceedings. "Under the Knife" is the best melding of their animated musical forebears and pensive current lyrical state, as the drums lend a drive that's uncommon in the rest of the work."Departing" is a good album. It's a more mature version of The Rural Alberta Advantage, and that results in a vastly different experience than the energy of previous RAA. It feels more like a stop on the journey somewhere else, however; this isn't the final resting place for the band. They don't feel exactly at home in this sound, regardless of how good several of the tunes sound.Or maybe I'm not comfortable with the new Rural Alberta Advantage.Or maybe this is what they wanted the album to do.All are possible, this album seems to prove.