It’s probably worth noting that Rural Alberta Advantage’s 2011 album Departing, with its evocative Prairie imagery and sense of longing, was one of my most-played albums when I lived abroad for a year. I only bring this up to explain why I was both nervous and excited to hear what their latest release, Mended With Gold, would sound like. As much as I welcome experimentation from artists, there’s always a fear that the thing you appreciate from them might disappear with the next evolution.
It’s also in this case an unrealized fear. Without suggesting the band has remained stagnant over the past three years, they’ve stayed relatively close to the mournful crescendos of their previous two releases. Nils Edenloff’s distinct vocals draw immediate attention with his wailing call on opener “Our Love…” and Amy Cole still softens his nasally boom with her far gentler voice while Paul Banwatt creates their trademark crashing on the drums.
There’s also a darker edge to that thanks to Edenloff’s decision to rent a remote cabin near Bruce Peninsula. It’s a typical story for a folk musician, but while retreating to a cabin may be well-trod territory, it’s hard to think of anyone with a similar experience. Rather than basking in the isolation, the experience ended up being a terrifying one. It’s that fear seeping into “To Be Scared” and “45/33” that gives Mended With Gold its unique touch. Even as Edenloff keeps up with his usual themes of love, heartbreak and moving on, they’ve never trembled quite like this.
Maybe that’s why the second half of the album seems to come into its own after embracing that pivotal moment. “Can you love/when your heart turns to dust?” is the new kind of anxiety they’ve found on “45/33.” It’s here, finally, that Banwatt marches on aggressively, capturing fear, panic and pain with an intensity that feels new to the RAA. Things only become more frantic on “All We’ve Ever Known” as Edenloff and Cole pick up on this new, ominous energy while staccato “Vulcan, AB” feels like it should be a nod to their older work given that title, but the similar names only draw attention to the slow divide that’s being created between past and present, and even the first and second halves of the new album.
Where “On The Rocks” finds peaceful resignation, “The Build” can only remain accepting for so long before again soaring to that fevered rhythm. And maybe it’s this new pacing that keeps Mended With Gold from being the same sort of album as Hometowns or Departing, proving that while the band continues to rely on their build up and explosion, they’re still pushing the boundaries of how far they can go with it.
Top Tracks: “45/33”; “Vulcan, AB”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)