Nils Edenloff is at work. He’s not in the studio or on the road, singing lead vocals and playing guitar with The Rural Alberta Advantage; he’s at his job at a computer engineering firm, a job he’s kept despite the growing success his band has gained since its breakthrough debut Hometowns. The RAA’s second outing, Departing, marks the band’s first record since joining Saddle Creek records. The album ranges from quick-paced barrages of multi-instrumentalism to sparse arrangements of folk delicacy, all complemented by Edenloff’s nasal, slightly off-key, vocals.
In 2005, three musicians held an open stage at a club in Toronto, Canada. No one showed up, but the meeting eventually led to the band’s formation. At a time when most bands were stuffing as many members on stage as possible, Edenloff, along with Amy Cole and Paul Banwatt formed a sparse trio. “There was a time when we tried out having a bunch of friends with us on stage,” Edenloff says, “but it didn’t do much to help out with what we were trying to do with the songs. I think our arrangements and the focus of the songs tend to be very precise and specific, as opposed to creating a big ruckus of noise.”
More precise is right. With Departing, The RAA took a step back from the raucous and upbeat nature of Hometowns to focus on more delicate arrangements. The music is calmer, more mature in a way. As with any sophomore effort, expectations must be managed, so the band returned to producer Roger Leavens. Forming songs from Edenloff’s guitar, the band crafts arrangements that can be developed a number of ways. Often, tradition is held, but the occasional departure to a keyboard base gives room for other elements to expand. “It really frees up Paul to do something completely different,” Edenloff says, “because he’s not playing to the rhythm of the guitar, it’s like a clean slate for him, so he’s more or less focused on playing drums to the vocal line, and that allows a song to take on a completely different path.”
“Under the Knife” demonstrates this beautifully, with a keyboard responsible for the primary melody, while a gently tinkling bell adds layers to the chorus. Compare this to “Barnes’ Yard” and “Muscle Relaxants,” the most straightforward “indie-rock” pieces on the record. “We kind of take the songs that I’ve got and strip them apart basically, and then build them back up. It’s that rebuilding that’s a collaborative process,” Edenloff says, “We just do our best to make the song the best that it can possibly be.”
The true shining gem of the album though lies with “Stamp,” a muddled affair dealing with the agony of love lost and gone. The lyrics are underdeveloped, “Our love’s waiting tonight/our love’s wasted tonight,” not truly giving justice to their musical support. Driving energy from Banwatt’s technical drumming is juxtaposed against the simple guitar, daintily topped with the haunting beauty of Edenloff and Cole’s combined voices. I’ve always thought it’s more important to focus on the rest than the actual notes,” Edenloff says, “because sometimes those can have more effect.” A mixture of equal parts tumultuous indie-rock and folk-inspired ballad, the result is both simple and complex, much in the same as the relationship itself.