The Rural Alberta Advantage - Departing

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Abr 9 2011, 0h59

After touring furiously to support their debut release, The Rural Alberta Advantage finally found time to head back to the studio to record ten tight songs that make up Departing. Two Lovers starts with a slow beat, focusing on simple acoustic rhythms with subdued keys, as opposed to the more electronically focused opener from Hometowns. The song also introduces characters that show up in nearly every song on the album. It tells of a "sweet embrace" but also speaks of screams, wind, ghosts, planes, and all the ways lovers can be challenged if they step outside their warm home even once. It's a warning of doomed possibilities.

Up a notch in tempo, The Breakup goes right to the heart of the Departing theme. The two lovers kept each other warm for the winter, but the ice breaks up in spring and sets a solid metaphor for their fates. The characters "cut a line through the snow in [their] boots" through various Canadian place names. We get more of keyboardist Amy's background builds in another slightly understated song, preparing the listener rather than capturing him or her.

The third track is a key-backed pre-elegy taking place around a surgical bed. Did someone swerve off the road on the ice-blind cover of the album and get wrapped in the crippled metal of a car frame? This time at least it's the "devil" and the "father" causing ills instead of the lovers themselves. Maybe only tragedy, a common enemy, can bring them back together. The xylophone melody at the song's end acts as a building premonition before the disc shoots full of Muscle Relaxants. This song is more familiar ground for the regular RAA listener. The rhythm and lack of acoustic strings is the main driver; while the lyrics are a bit fuzzy, the instrumental parts seem to pair well with the pills.

We then return from this brief high to North Star, which offers, finally, a hopeful note. It's a plain story about the two lovers driving home through that winterland in a friend's car. But of course because it's an RAA song, the companionship might all be an illusion and by the end of trip the lone driver is wishing for a passenger, led onward by a cold, indifferent star. Driving back into the city, that zoo of other potential lovers, the quiet country retreat is brought to an end. So now it's time for the rocking single, Stamp. An electric guitar and drums at the intro sound like they are straying until an avalanche of keys and rhythm bursts through. It's the pinnacle of the album and (you guessed it) the low point for our lovers. In The Ballad of The RAA it is said that "the good things will last." Well, as winter messes with memory and more ("it's hard to remember the end of December") they admit that "the only thing about this love is that it's never gonna last." The song is the best showcase of both Paul's drumming and Amy's backups. Oooh-ooohs float like the ghosts of this album, a final statement of love's demise.

Tornado '87 tends to be the least memorable song on Departing. For one, a song about a tornado could have been a bit more foreboding. The "black sky" metaphor for a doomed relationship works well for a line but can't quite sustain a whole song. Or maybe by this point I'm just impatient to get to my personal favorite, Barnes' Yard. It's a song that's seen a few incarnations and the album version delivers the treat of extended lyrics and Amy's now-necessary background ooohs in the bridge. It's an idealized portrait of lovers shirking family obligations to sneak out on a "northern night" and wander through their "city of oil." They trek through the familiar snow of The Breakup and it's an early chronological chapter previous to any devastation caused by their older selves: "nothing's going wrong and nothing's ever holding us down."

The band brings symmetry by closing with some slower tracks. Coldest Days cements our winter theme and even though the "weight of love" causes somber lyrics, the keys are oddly upbeat and the bass drum comforting. It's a perfect tune for an afternoon of winter driving. But the true gem awaits: after the last note of Coldest Days rings out, we hear Nils and Amy sing "Good Night," then Paul comes in with the quietest tap for this album version of a live favorite. Nils adds acoustic strumming and begins verses which bid farewell to all the images of Departing: the northern winters, the depressed, the family members left behind, the "rough and tumble summers," and the "woods where we first felt God." An adult version of our traveled protagonist tells a sober story, admitting through nostalgia that it still seems possible to get back together with an old lover. It's a song not only about Departing, but about arrival at a different stage in one's life. Furthermore, it's a song that's bigger than the album, bigger than the RAA, but just the perfect size for all the feelings this band and album have worked to convey.

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