“Departing” by The Rural Alberta Advantage | CD Review

by Cory Kibler

To begin my take on Departing, I believe that this must be said: Nils Edenloff, the lead vocalist for The Rural Alberta Advantage, has a voice that is not for everyone. No one does, I guess (except for Sam Cooke), but Edenloff is decidedly a member of the “polarizing vocalists” club.

Vocals always seem to be the biggest factor when it comes to whether one likes some band or not. Even if one loves everything else about a band, unappealing vocals can be The Ultimate Deal-Breaker. How many times have you heard someone say of Bob Dylan/Neil Young/Tom Waits/Bright Eyes/Deerhoof/Stevie Nicks/Built to Spill/etc., “Yeah, it’s obviously good music; I just can’t stand the singer’s voice. It’s nothing personal; it’s just not my thing.” Tons, right? This is good, because your personal experiences serve to strengthen my argument.

There are lots of polarizing voices out there. Many times, when someone’s turned off by a vocalist, there might not be any obvious concrete reason for it. They just won’t like hearing it. To make things more complicated, there are often apparent contradictions within the same person’s vocal tastes: “Wait: you don’t like the guy from Rush, but you’re into the guy from Yes? They’re practically the same guy!” And if your best bro can’t fucking stand Primus because he thinks Les Claypool’s vocals are extremely old-timey, it’s possible that you’ll love Primus for the same reason, regardless of how much your musical tastes otherwise overlap. You might understand your bestest, most awesomest bro’s viewpoint, but you just don’t feel the same way.

Here’s what I’m getting at: I love many weird voices, and I understand it when other people do not. I just happen to be the type of guy who isn’t into Nils Edeloff’s voice. I am not entirely sure why. He is nasally, but so are Doug Marsch and Billy Corgan, and I love them. He strains his voice a lot, but I love it when Jeff Mangum does it (even though I DESPISE it when Bono does it). So, who knows? If you’re like my coworker (we’ll call her “Tanasha Bitchardson”), you’ll love Edeloff’s voice because you just do. If you’re like me, you don’t really get it, but maybe you and I will come around?

(Listen to "North Star" by The Rural Alberta Advantage)

Perhaps the aforementioned bias has colored my perception. However, despite my attitude toward the vocals, I believe the album to be pretty damn good. While I feel that I am unable to fully appreciate them as they were intended, the songs themselves are absolutely well-written. The RAA are one of those bands whose name hints a lot at their overall sound. Their songs are not grand or rowdy — they are indie-folk-rock gems that sometimes border on quaint, but not TOO quaint. Departing isn’t quite the tundra, and it’s not quite the city, either — it’s acoustic guitars, bright keyboards, persistent and powerful drums, and emotional swells from every area.  

(Watch the official video for "Stamp," by The Rural Alberta Advantage.)

There aren’t any easy-breezy feel-good jams on this record, either. It’s not that Edeloff, along with keyboardist/vocalist Amy Cole and drummer Paul Banwatt, are creating overwrought, gut-wrenching epics or anything like that. It doesn’t have any Arcade-Fire-style doom in it. RAA just have a lot of important things to say, and they don’t want to mess around with music that doesn’t reflect that. With songs like “Two Lovers,” “Under the Knife,” and “Coldest Days,” it’s as if RAA has experienced something weirdly and intensely personal, and they’re trying their best to express it in a way that’s completely universal.

The instrumentation is gorgeous; the drums and guitars leave a lot of room for Cole’s keyboard-playing, which adds a beautiful (and sometimes playful) balance to the earnest and intense tones and words going on elsewhere. It’s not an incredibly diverse record, but it doesn’t need to be: At 32 minutes, it swoops in, says what it must say without any filler, and then vanishes with the slow heartbreaking burn of “Good Night.” If one were in a vulnerable state, this album could be emotionally exhausting in all the right ways (if you’re fresh out of a breakup, you’ve been warned!). Even if you’re all settled and not emotionally vulnerable whatsoever at the moment, Edeloff’s heavy heart is entirely palpable. The sincerity is overwhelming.

And maybe that’s why, even though the vocals just aren’t my thing, I recognize that Departing is an interesting and meaningful indie-folk record. Ideally, if you think Departing sounds promising on paper, you’ll love the vocals and fall unapologetically in love with each song. When that happens, you can roll your eyes at Old Man Kibler. Then, you can laugh and laugh at what a rube I am, but be sure to laugh into a throw-pillow so that you do not wake up your grandparents, who are sleeping soundly in the next tent over.

Cory Kibler grew up in Ventura, Calif., and Colorado Springs, Colo., before coming to Nebraska for college and graduate school in 2000. He has slowly transformed into a Nebraskan, which left a mess. He plays music as a solo artist and with The Sleepover, and he has played in the past with such bands as Shacker and Robot Creep Closer. He enjoys creative writing and news writing, and has written for various publications and news outlets. In his private, alone-time, he is a retired professional comedian and pet-enthusiast. He his married and has four small animals living in his home, rent-free. Finally, he helps run netlabel Mr. Furious Records with his friend C. Howie Howard. You can contact him at cory.kibler@gmail.com. He misses you. So bad.