Filed under: Positive Jam Reviews | Tags: album reviews, Arcade Fire, Brand New, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Colin Meloy, Jeff Mangum, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Decemberists, the Get Up Kids, The Rural Alberta Advantage, The Shins
PREVIEW: Download The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Luciana” MP3
WE GIVE IT: 18/20 Watts
This review is part of 20 Watts’ exclusive Positive Jam coverage. Check out the rest here!
When I sat down to listen to The Rural Alberta Advantage for the first time, I had no idea what to expect. I’d read the hype and seen the countless comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel, but as someone who is skeptical of lofty expectations, I had to investigate for myself. Ten seconds into the band’s full-length debut, Hometowns, I was convinced it was all true. For a band that’s only existed for about four years, and has lived in virtual obscurity for three and a half, it’s quite a feat.
A myriad of things struck me about Hometowns, even on the first listen. Lead singer Nils Edenloff’s voice sounds incredibly like that of Jeff Mangum, of NMH fame. This was to be expected as I’d read similar comments in a review or two beforehand. However, what the commentary I’d read beforehand failed to address was the diversity of sounds on this record, including boatloads of energy reminiscent of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and crushing blows that can evoke Colin Meloy of The Decemberists. For a band I’d never heard before, it all seemed so strangely, and pleasantly, familiar.
What’s most intriguing, if not baffling, to me is how they’re able to fit it all in. The descriptions above are simply of one song! The list could continue to include elements from bands such as Arcade Fire, The Shins, The Get Up Kids and even Brand New. It’s jarring to see this many sounds in one place, though not for an instant do you feel unsettled by its presentation. On this album, rarely does a track’s end even remotely resemble its beginning, making shifts like indie pop to post-punk, and noise to ambient electronic, in a matter of seconds.
It’s those constant shifts that allow for dynamic and active progressions from song-to-song. These genre-sampling quick hits are a driving force behind Hometowns’ constant energy and enthusiasm. Even when easing up for two ballads of sorts, “The Air” and “Sleep All Day,” the motor just keeps running. In fact, the only time slowing down comes into play is at the very end, with closer “In the Summertime.” After a run like that, everybody’s out of gas, and the album’s final gasps are indicative of that, though not in a negative way.
There will be moments of what sounds like midwestern alternative/folk, while others may come closest to a bouncy ball careening off the wall. The Rural Alberta Advantage have already, in just one album, crafted a style all their own, dependent on such a vast pallet of inspiration, that no one can truly pinpoint its origin. As far as debuts go, this could very well be the standard-bearer for 2009. Adjust your end-of-year lists accordingly.
— John Cassillo