By Josh Terzino
The new release from The RAA picks up basically where Hometowns left off. Nils is still writing and singing about loss, or the fear of loss, and loneliness. Paul Banwatt is still making his case as one of the best drummers working today (Canadian or otherwise). And Amy Cole is still providing solid keyboard work and backing vocals that haunt and delight, sometimes both at once.
So what’s different? First off, there’s a surprising leap in the confidence level on display. Where most bands would play safe on their second release, trying to avoid the “sophomore slump,” the RAA push full-steam ahead. They don’t use the sound from their previous record as a crutch. Bands do this all the time. The biggest culprit I can think of offhand was The Strokes on Room On Fire. I still like that record, but much of it feels like a ripoff of Is This It?
Departing is also a far more polished record. One of the charms of Hometowns is that it sounds like it was recorded in a living room. That’s great for a small band trying to get their name out there. Once you’ve established yourself, people expect more. I think this release sounds really great, and I regret not buying the vinyl bundle that was offered on the Paper Bag Records website.
As I said, the lyrics on Departing don’t stray too far from something you might hear on Hometowns. The words are strong on both records, though. Some of my favorites from the new release appear in the lead track, “Two Lovers“:
And if I fly away to the coast,
Your face it haunts me more than most
And if I ever hold you again,
I’ll hold you tight enough to crush your veins
And you will die and become a ghost
And haunt me til my pulse also slows
It isn’t just the lyrics that make “Two Lovers” such a good song, it’s also the way it’s sung. The phrasing and emotion that Nils uses really helps the song become something more than just another lamentation of missed opportunity.
The last big difference on Departing is the lack of some slower material. The album closes with the song “Good Night,” which they’ve been playing at the end of shows for a while now. Perfect song to end on, by the way. Other than that, “North Star” is the only other track I would call a slow number. Hometowns featured a few ballad-like tracks and an acoustic song.
Overall, I think Departing is a great follow-up to one of my favorite records of the past few years. I’ve listened to Hometowns a ridiculous number of times, so it will be nice to have some more RAA to dig into when I get the urge.
If you’re anything like me and love Rural Alberta Advantage’s first album, you’ll love this one. It’s available now through their website, on iTunes, and Amazon. You could also go to a brick-and-mortar store if you’re into that kind of thing.
But if you’re buying music in a brick-and-mortar, you are probably too busy reading to yourself with your lips moving or trying to figure out why people are mad at Charlie Sheen, so you won’t have time to listen to this album or any other.