Plumbiferous Media

Hometowns - The Rural Alberta Advantage

Jul 9th 2009
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Hometowns - The Rural Alberta AdvantageThe Rural Alberta Advantage
Score: 22

The Rur­al Alber­ta Advan­tage (guess where they’re from) released its first full-length inde­pen­dent­ly last year, but rere­leased it under the Sad­dle Creek Records label ear­li­er this week. Not sat­is­fied with the ref­er­ence in their name, the band named their first album Home­towns. The same cre­ativ­i­ty that accom­pa­nies the band’s nam­ing scheme is quite appar­ent in the album’s drums and vocals, which, to put it blunt­ly, ruin the entire album.

The best traits of Home­towns are undoubt­ed­ly shown in the gui­tar and keyboard/organ lines. The first track shows off the key­board quite well with a sim­ple line set in an amaz­ing tone that almost sounds like extreme­ly pure throatsing­ing, bring­ing out the beau­ti­ful har­mon­ics of those tones, while “The Air” stress­es the gui­tar with a pleas­ant and well con­struct­ed acoustic line. What makes the instru­men­tals as a whole dis­ap­point­ing is the drums, which would fit bet­ter on a hard rock album than on Home­towns. Not only are the drums loud enough that they even begin to drown out the oth­er ele­ments of the tracks, but they are inces­sant­ly active, with overindul­gent fills and beats that rarely fit the tone the album oth­er­wise attempts to cre­ate. Addi­tion­al­ly, the tam­bour of the drum set is extreme­ly hol­low and fuzzy, which does noth­ing to improve the already over­ly per­va­sive drum line.

While it’s true that Nils Edenlof­f’s voice shares quite a lot with many oth­er indie lead singers, this isn’t a com­pli­ment: he shares most of the prob­lems and few of the strengths. Edenlof­f’s voice is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly thin, drawn, and shrill through most of Home­towns, cre­at­ing a con­stant­ly irri­tat­ing vocal line. In the extreme­ly rare cas­es where he steps out of his two-note com­fort zone, it’s just to add a third mis­treat­ed note. All of this adds up to a drone which is not only irri­tat­ing but frankly bor­ing - even the most the­atri­cal procla­ma­tions seem no more than over­done and unex­cit­ing. Issues with the mix­ing lead to an impen­e­tra­ble mash of Edenlof­f’s vocals and the instru­men­tals, which has the effect of damp­en­ing the vocals and empha­siz­ing the gen­er­al­ly much supe­ri­or instru­men­tals - but which leaves the tracks in a state of utter con­fu­sion. The occa­sion­al appear­ance of Amy Cole on back­up vocals is quite wel­come, but her addi­tions are too timid to counter Edenlof­f’s input. Nev­er­the­less, when Cole’s remark­ably in-tune voice coin­cides with the rare instants when Edenlof­f’s voice reach­es an unchar­ac­ter­is­tic lev­el of inspi­ra­tion (the end of “Frank, AB” and most of “The Air”), the music improves from awful to safe­ly mediocre.

Many of Home­towns’s lyri­cal lines are incom­pre­hen­si­ble due to the drone into which Edenlof­f’s voice inces­sant­ly slips. Those which are more clear do the album no favors, com­prised as they are of roman­tic cliché and banal­i­ty. Par­tial­ly thanks to his voice, Edenloff utter­ly fails to excite as he entreats a for­mer love not to “haunt this heart” or remem­bers how “you said you would change my heart into pet­ri­fied wood.” But either of these mediocre lyrics fades in com­par­i­son with the utter­ly use­less end to “Don’t Haunt this Place”: “I know it’s right I know it’s okay / And I’d like to see you now and again / This was hard it was dumb we should do it again / Give our­selves some time ten years from the day,” where Edenloff seems to be des­per­ate­ly com­bin­ing alt-romance and an ample sup­ply of inani­ty to fin­ish off a colos­sal­ly mediocre effort.

Over­all, The Rur­al Alber­ta Advan­tage does an incred­i­ble job of mask­ing what good the album con­tains. The vocals safe­ly sat­is­fy this require­ment most of the time, and when they don’t, the drums are not far away. And while some tracks are wors­ened by only one ele­ment, there are oth­ers that fail to live up to even those expec­ta­tions. “Luciana,” eas­i­ly the worst track on the album, com­bines the whin­ing, harsh vocals and over­am­bi­tious drums, and places them along­side a com­plete­ly unin­ter­est­ing, dense gui­tar line. The result has no direc­tion, no inter­est­ing catch­ing points to pull the track togeth­er, and no low tones to at least secure the track. Even the addi­tion of instru­ments towards the end of the track only serves to con­vo­lute an already over­ly pop­u­lat­ed track.

We’d love to say that Home­towns had poten­tial. We also don’t like to lie. Between Edenlof­f’s inces­sant whine and point­less lyrics, the dull thud of the per­cus­sion, and the mediocre over­all com­po­si­tion, Home­towns was sunk before it real­ly began. While it’s true that the gui­tar and key­board aren’t bad, and from time to time are actu­al­ly decent, the bad­ly-done aspects of the album quick­ly over­shad­ow these strengths. Home­towns con­tains a few very short moments of inspi­ra­tion, which are quick­ly cov­ered up by the unin­spired sta­tus quo of the album. All in all, the best that can real­ly be hoped for from Home­towns is that Rur­al Alber­ta Advan­tage learns from their mis­takes and, per­haps, cre­ates a bet­ter sec­ond album. We won’t hold our breath.

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