The Rural Alberta Advantage’s songwriter Nils Edenloff has likely seen Moulin Rouge (who hasn’t?), but you wouldn’t know it to listen to the Canadian trio’s third LP, Mended With Gold. Throughout the effort, Edenlof sings about love like he was the first one to ever experience the emotion—and surely the only one to write songs about it. Opener “Our Love…” lets us know that “love will bring us down” while the rest of the record fills in the blanks assumed by those ellipses. In “The City,” he’s “stuck loving you, not know[ing] what he’s gonna go.” You can guess where “our love” is on “On the Rocks” (and you don’t have to guess, he tells you, clarifying “our love was not dead, but lost to find again”). And on and on. Hasn’t the world heard enough silly love songs?
This is both The Rural Alberta’s crutch and curse, the pinpoint on which the quite-good-in- every-other-respect album fails to be great. Spread out over a dozen songs, which advance press reveals to be inspired by the frightening cabin that they were conceived in (red herring city), Edenlof, multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole and clear-cut MVP percussionist Paul Banwatt carve out the acoustic indie-pop-folk sound they have mastered with surgical cleanliness and precision. The group has a gift for pop songwriting, taking somewhat predictable progressions into unexpected places. If only the lyrics would follow them there.
The album’s best moments (and it has many of them) manage to overcome the lack of poetry. “The Build” takes its title literally, serving as a bridge to nowhere, where the finish may not satisfy, but where the bridge was actually the destination all along. As disappointing as it may seem initially, it becomes easy to appreciate once the track has revealed itself the first time. Likewise, “Vulcan, AB,” this album’s “Stamp” or “Don’t Haunt This Place,” could easily milk its home run of a hook for all it is worth. But it doesn’t. It tastefully leaves the listeners wanting more, coaxing them into pushing the back button to listen again before completing the album.
This refusal to play into expectations is admirable and keeps The Rural Alberta Advantage from slipping into complacency. Edenlof, who still sounds as much like Jeff Mangum as ever (which is also a detriment when you realize how awesome these songs would be with just an ounce of Mangum’s lyrical creativity), lets his voice pack the punches, with frequent octave changes and emotional swells. He lets Cole come in at just the right times to punctuate his tuneful uppercuts. He works with a drummer in Banwatt who could make the most mundane song sound like a revelation. Little about The Rural Alberta Advantage is sonically exciting (unless you were to take it back in a time machine and listen 10 years ago, in which case it would make them legends), but the unabashed exuberance with which Edenlof puts his music out into the world and the certainty the songs seem to have in themselves make the band’s shortcomings surmountable obstacles. Mended With Gold works, pleases and doesn’t tire of itself in time. It is also painfully unaware of its faults, which is a shame when greatness stands so close and the songwriter can’t, or won’t, simply grab it.