The Rural Alberta Advantage’s debut, Hometowns, was met with a lot of praise for its bleak, bramble-folk depiction of the brutal, regrettable, and somewhat embarrassing components of a relationship’s sour end. It was the stuff that requires a certain amount of inspiration of a besmirched recent memory, and not easily replicated on an album-per-album basis. In case anyone was worried, Nils Edenloff is still overwhelmed with bruised love, but now it’s of a different breed. Hometowns had a feeling of dejected immediacy to it, a fresh wound, schizophrenic in its contradicting emotions of vile hatred and darkened infatuation. But on Departing, the heartsickness feels deeper. More somber, less explosive, the hot feelings of anger are replaced with a sighed melancholia — occasionally amounting to a deeper resonation than displayed on the band’s debut.
Like Hometowns, Departing is a short, streamlined race of therapeutic word-choice and dampened instrumentals. It’s still decidedly winter music; the compositions are chilled to the bone, mirroring the permafrost white-out of the cover image, but the band is opening its songs up more. The first track, “Two Lovers,” has a country-folk dawdle, letting Edenloff’s usually tightly wound vocals slide lazily over the acoustic swing and glacial piano keys. The penultimate, “Coldest Days,” gives the band a relaxed gallop, and is the closest they’ve come to writing an unabashed love song, crafting the fantastic imagery of a couple holding on to their relationship for warmth through the titular coldest days.
Alberta Advantage have never strived on melody — the rat-a-tat drum-attack of Paul Banwatt and Amy Cole’s curious one-step-behind harmonies have accentuated the band’s image, setting them apart from the legion of other emo-folkies — but Departing is propped up with a tightened sense of craftsmanship. The sparse plods of sound work with each other astoundingly well. No track represents it better than “North Star,” which, for the first two-thirds, reduces the song to a percussive heartbeat and surgical stabs of piano. Sharpened down to its base essentials, it stings the listener with pin-point accuracy. It’s always impressive to hear an album use a tight economy of sound to get its message across.
All that aside, Departing should be a familiar experience for anyone already enamored with the Rural Alberta Advantage. The record encompasses ten songs from the state of mind that produced Hometowns, and it’s gone on long enough for this to become their “thing.” Luckily Edenloff’s nasally cadence and his band’s frigid arrangements sound just as oddly refreshing as they did back in 2009. Sparsely lit lover’s folk is by no means a fresh development, but the Rural Alberta Advantage continue to take the sound in new, interesting ways.