The WildSaddle Creek (US) / Paper Bag Recordings (CAN)
By Cole Faulkner
I had a friend who once moved to Alberta, not for the oil money, but to become a doctor. He always had aspirations of returning home, but between the affordable cost of living and other monetary advantages, he still lives there to this day. While he resides in the big city, there’s another perk that comes to mind with the province – sharing a home with The Rural Alberta Advantage. Whereas the rest of us require tuning in to Spotify or some other user generated playlist to hear the band, the same friend often speaks highly of being able to flick on the radio and tune in to the Alberta indie-folk trio at any time of the day. Considering that the band’s latest offering and fourth full length, The Wild, continues the band’s upward trend, that is an advantage worth bragging about.
Central to the entire operation remains the distinct ragged nasal call of front man Nils Edenloff. Sharing obvious vocal similarities with genre mates Deer Tick, Edenloff’s unconventional allure continues to make The Wild unique amongst its peers. But what makes The Wild stand out against the band’s prior efforts is the level of instrumental polish and complexity that The Rural Alberta Advantage flirts with. Lyrically, opener “Beacon Hill” is as raw and honest as the band’s most powerful work. Written shortly after the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires that decimated one of Alberta’s most iconic oil towns, lines like “there’s a voice, screaming in the haze” project a sense of vulnerability often unacknowledged by Albertans during boom times. Meanwhile, “Bad Luck Again” instrumentally explores a backdrop of pitter pattering percussive patterns against the band’s warm landing female vocal accompaniment. By all accounts The Rural Alberta Advantage should struggle for this sort of appeal, but that just isn’t the case. “Dead” reinforces the outright catchiness that the band forces from in their asymmetrical formula, smoothing out rough edges with horn blasts as the track accelerates to a stampeding trot. Other effective approaches include “Brother,” which adds to the emphasis with chorus clinchers of brooding bass, while “Toughen Up” reels it back to tamer ground, bringing to mind lesser known Cage The Elephant singles.
The worst that can be said about The Wild is that even with its careful updates to the band’s tried and tested sound, the album continues to stick close to its predecessors. Without suggesting that they throw convention entirely to the wind like Portugal. The Man earlier in the same year, the band’s next step may do well to infuse something less expected – without compromising that unmistakable Rural Alberta Advantage feel. An endeavour easier said than done. In the meantime, fans will surely embrace The Wild for its undeniable folk charm and unique indie sensibilities.