The Rural Alberta Advantage
Saturday November 01, 2014 9:00 pm
In 2006 singer-songwriter Nils Edenloff, percussionist Paul Banwatt, and multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole came together to release their debut self-titled EP as The Rural Alberta Advantage. The ensuing years have brought two full-length albums (2008's Hometowns and 2011's Departing), widespread critical praise (SPIN, The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, NPR, among others), two Juno Award Nominations (Best New Group, Video of the Year), a Long List Nomination for the Polaris Music Prize, and a hard-earned reputation as one of the most impressive live bands you'll ever see. It was through all of this that The RAA's latest album, Mended With Gold, took shape.
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The Rural Alberta Advantage
The twelve songs found on the album have been filtered through these experiences and achievements, pushing them to heights previously unreached by the band. While maintaining the heartfelt lyrics, fetching melodies, and explosive percussion that won the band a loyal following worldwide and one of the highest-selling eMusic Selects albums to date with their debut, Mended With Gold makes it clear that The RAA have reached the next level. From the first moments of album opener "Our Love" it becomes unmistakable that these collective experiences has helped the band compose the most fully-realized work of their career.
Two key elements that led to this leap was the band's road warrior status and the chance to take full advantage of their time in the studio this time around. The trio spent months shaping the songs, sometimes first on keyboard, then guitar (and visa versa), and taking others on the road to workshop live.
"We spent this past winter both touring and writing. We'd never combined the two before," Amy reflects, "We'd try out a new song live on stage, listen to the recording of that performance the next day in the van and then repeat the whole process again the next night. I think you can really hear how the three of us came together to shape the songs on this record."
The RAA's long-time live sound engineer, Matt Lederman (Hayden, !!!, Besnard Lakes) was brought into the studio this time around as a key piece towards capturing the live energy of the band for these songs - something the group was intent on reflecting on this album. Teaming up with co-producer Leon Taheny (Owen Pallett, Austra, F*cked Up), the two settled into Candle Recording in Toronto to record the album.
While the sonics have now evolved, the plaintive lyrics and creative arrangements that helped define the band have remained. Standout tracks "Terrified", "On The Rocks", "Runners in the Night", and "Vulcan, AB" confront ideas of love, loss, and heartbreak through the pain of going through such experiences and the person that comes out on the other side of it.
Nils recalls, "Last spring, I rented a remote cottage up in the Bruce Peninsula on the recommendation of some friends to try to do some writing for the new album. It turned out to be a pretty terrifying place to be alone with your thoughts- locals told me to watch out for black bears, the heat wasn't working and at night it sounded like the cottage was surrounded by wolves. I slept with a pocket knife at arms-reach. It's funny the lines that will run through your head when you're alone like that and trying to get yourself to sleep- they inspired "To Be Scared", which is probably one of my favorite songs on the record."
The ideas and moods created in these songs tie back to the album title Mended With Gold, embracing the idea that the breakage and repair of an object becomes part of its unique history and ultimately makes it more valuable instead of a blemish to disguise. The Rural Alberta Advantage have taken all of their successes, losses, adventures, and heartbreaks over the past few years, and forged them together into an unforgettably powerful work of beauty.
Upon returning to his hometown of Toronto, Canada, from a final European tour with his band, Peter Dreimanis sat sweaty and half-drunk in a candlelit basement bar, nursing a drink, debating his next musical pursuit. Lulled in lethargy, he paid little attention to the beat-up acoustic guitar being passed from patron to patron around him; that was until it found its home in the hands of Leah Fay.
It took only seconds of strumming and dreamy, dulcet singing for Dreimanis to realize he'd met his muse. He sat listening, dumfounded, dreaming up ideas for what could come to be between the two of them. Clear-headed the next day, he started his search for the stranger from the bar with whom he seemingly shared a soul. He found her; they founded July Talk.
Despite their relatively young union, the primary pair behind July Talk has already established its own sonancy: a sound rooted in roots and Americana with the dual-voice charm of Johnny and June, the creepy quirkiness of Tom Waits, and the hooks of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. It's a very unique blend that borrows from different decades and domains, though where those influences begin and end is cleverly disguised.
Most special about a July Talk experience, though, is the foiling of Dreimanis and Fay as personas; who they are inside or outside of the public eye and just what it is that exists between them. Lyrically, the pair plays with the juxtaposition of gender roles and perspectives, distorting social preconceptions.