words by tom johnson
Hometowns, the debut album from The Rural Alberta Advantage, initially released back in 2008, will forever be one of those albums; for me and, quietly, steadily, many others. Stumbled upon, as these things tend to be, at just the right moment within my own story, that distant Canadian warbling aligned itself with my own set of stars just when I needed it the most. To this day I only need to hear that scrappy, beautiful introduction on the opening track to be reminded of those same times and town and places long left behind but that still find themselves bound to the music in that funny old way that music tends to do.
Removing myself from the story for a moment, Hometowns still sits as one of those utterly magical debut records, the kind of collection that hits like a lightning bolt of inspiration, but also one that has a tendency to overshadow everything that follows. Now moving on to their fourth full-length, it’s probably true to say that it remains the case with The RAA. The live shows are still brilliantly magnetic, and the albums that have followed have been solid bursts of folk/rock, but the weight of that debut has always sat in the hazy background of it all; as golden days you can never quite find your way back to; songs that will always hold the ghost of our empty towns.
Whether the band’s decision to stick somewhat rigidly to their tried-and-tested formula has hindered them over the course of the last nine-some years is somewhat by-the-by as they approach brand new album ‘The Wild’ – which is to say that you could probably make an educated guess as to what the record sounds like before having heard a single note. Perhaps more key to its success – or otherwise – then is how it all feels. We know the band can write a damn good pop song, whether that’s throw a raucous burst of adrenaline, led by one of the best drummers in the game, or through some clammy, haunting ballad informed by the cracks of rural living, but can they still channel these things in to a record that has the longevity and captivation of what came before?
The answer – lovingly, heart-racingly – is a resounding yes. Informed, somewhat, by the passive strangeness of life on the road, and also the forest fires that nearly wiped out the hometown of chief songwriter Nils Edenloff, The Wild is exactly that: a rabid, sweaty, dirty, beautiful beast of a record that feels (there’s that word again) like the kind of record you might have hoped they’d be making almost a decade on from Hometowns. Breathlessly introduced by opening track Beacon Hill, there’s an instant and sincere bite to to The Wild that the trio immediately hit you with; nailing their colours to the mast as soon as possible, perhaps in the hope that it means they never lose their way in the resulting aftermath.
This gnarly, unwavering gaze is there from the outset, snaking a concentrated darkness through the peaks and troughs of ‘Bad Luck Again’ and the string-led punchiness of ‘Dead Alive’, one of the record’s highlights which delivers Edenloff’s most vehement, throat-raking lead vocal of his band’s entire discography, which is as thrilling and rabid as that might sound, as well as a passionate, timely reminder of just how life-affirming this trio can be.
For reasons greater than we can illuminate here, music has a funny way of stirring something in its listeners even if the people and places they document are far removed from those lives. Whether that be via a subtle turn of phrase that is able to be applied to a differing situation, or the simple, primal sound of three Canadians giving everything they have to rattle out ten songs of blood, sweat, and tears, songs that have the ability to function as warm blood through cold veins, powering limbs and hearts, bringing heated life to something greater than themselves or else just quiet moments in a day when you needed to be reminded of the nurturing benefit of such a thing. In its most meaningful moments – for which there are many, revealed over time like landscapes changing with the seasons – ‘The Wild’ is a substantial and scintillating expression of human endeavour – a meaningful fruition and so much more besides.
We’re very pleased to share a full stream of the album ahead of its release this Friday – check it out here:
‘The Wild’ is released on October 13th, via Saddle Creek/Paper Bag Records