hometownsPre-release hype. It is something that every music publication and enthusiast is guilty of. Most of the time, the burden to be everything to everyone is placed on a band well before they’ve recorded their first proper album Some people hear early recordings by a band, get excited, and then blog about them. If the music captures the attention of the right sites or critics, it can get a band the kind of attention that most groups still dream about ten or fifteen years into their existence. However, it is not uncommon for a group to be named the “Next Big Thing”, and then fall into obscurity shortly after their moment in the spotlight. Either listeners are underwhelmed by the actual release after months of anticipation (Black Kids easily comes to mind), or these publications turn on them when it comes time to release album number two (any band who tries something different or signs to a major label.).

One group that has garnered a considerable amount of attention in the last few months is Toronto’s The Rural Alberta Advantage. While they are not talked about with the same fervor as some groups, they have been a topic of conversation in many indie circles since South by Southwest. It is said that they give one hell of a live show, and that they have a great opportunity to really break out with their debut album, Hometowns, which was recently re-released by Saddle Creek almost a year after the band put it out themselves. Taking a very Tabula Rasa approach, I can say that this band has released a promising debut, one that isn’t without its’ faults.

One of the first things that is noticeable about this group is lead singer Nils Edenloff’s delivery. One can easily draw comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum, but while Mangum’s nasally voice was controlled and endearing, there are several places on Hometowns where Edenloff sounds like he’s trying to hard to do a rote impersonation. Multi-instumentalist Amy Cole, on the other hand, has a very pleasant voice that on several of the songs acts as a nice counter balance to Edenloff’s yelping. Songs like “Don’t Haunt This Place” are a testament to this. Another complaint that could be made is that the majority of the lyrical content revolves around the same motif. Themes about love and longing in, you guessed it, Rural Alberta, can occasionally give off the feeling that you have heard the same song twice.

However, when the Rural Alberta Advantage are at their best, they showcase an enormous amount of potential. Songs such as “The Deathbridge in Lethbridge” and “Drain the Blood” two of only a handful of tracks with electric guitars, are at the same time engaging, catchy, demonstrate the talent of the band as musicians. In fact, it seems like the band is having more fun when they are not playing hushed, acoustic numbers. “Edmonton” is another exhibit that proves this theory, as it is easily one of the album’s best moments. By contrast, when the band tries to be more subdued in their sound, some of the tracks are instantly forgettable. This is because they are not played with the same kind of energy that the more upbeat numbers are. Maybe the band is able to make the best of it in a live setting, but on record, some of the songs are downright boring.

Overall, the Rural Alberta Advantage has released an album that will likely be mentioned at the end of the year by the extremely faithful and a handful of casual fans. That is not to say that it is a bad album, quite the contrary, some of the songs here have real staying power. However, moments like them are far between on Hometowns, leaving the album as a whole with the label “Agreeable” at best. It will be interesting to see what the group does for the follow-up. If they play their cards right, they may be able to capitalize on the potential that they have demonstrated here. This album is a good reminder that sometimes, the hype may not be fully justified, but it is enough to get people to notice a band that have the ability to take themselves places.

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