For over a decade, the Rural Alberta Advantage have quietly built themselves one of the most rabid and passionate fan-bases in Canada. Since their beloved 2008 debut album, Hometowns, the Rural Alberta Advantage have played countless sold out shows across the country thanks to their bare-bones but lively folk-rock setup and ecstatic sing-alongs.
On their fourth album, The Wild, the Rural Alberta Advantage maintain their familiar nostalgic themes of leaving home, saying goodbye to friends and lovers and searching for clues in the past that linger on in the present. The Toronto-based trio's foundation is built upon guitarist-vocalist Nils Edenloff's memories of growing up in Alberta and leaving his original hometown of Fort McMurray, which was ravaged by wildfires last summer. Aside from "Beacon Hill," which is named after one of the neighbourhoods hit hardest in the disaster, The Wild contains less obvious Albertan references this time around.
Instead, the band's latest record is about finding hope and dealing with change during a tough time in a nameless place. On the bleak "Alright," Edenloff wistfully sings, "Last night sitting in the dark, I was being difficult / I know we're gonna be alright / I know, I hope." The darker lyrical themes are apparent throughout The Wild, which sees the band in a slightly different mood despite the catchiness in their simple song structures remaining strong. "Bad Luck Again" is a classic-sounding Rural Alberta Advantage song, featuring quietly finger-picked acoustic guitar that transforms in forceful strums, a choir of woo-oohs followed by a sing-along chorus ("On and on, nothing left here anymore") and drummer Paul Banwatt's frenzied drum fills.
The octopus-armed Banwatt continues to prove he is one of the finest and most underrated rock drummers by reliably propelling the group's rootsy tendencies into rowdy barnyard stomps. Banwatt's rapid-fire snare hits pair with Edenloff at his most intense state to create one of the band's best and most reckless songs on "Dead / Alive," the undeniable high-energy successor to songs like "Luciana" and "Muscle Relaxants," which finds Edenloff practically screaming his head off to the cathartic chorus. His recognizable nasal yelps also define "Wild Grin," which features a similar boundless urgency.
Contrasting the raucousness with the pulsing "Toughen Up," the Rural Alberta Advantage add shimmering textures and electronic accents to their usual arsenal of acoustic guitar, sustained keyboard and drums. It's here that newcomer Robin Hatch's silky background vocals and low bass synths stay true to former member Amy Cole's contributions. Elsewhere, slower, acoustic guitar-driven ballads, Rural Alberta Advantage staples, add feeling (see "Edmonton" and "Two Lovers"), and The Wild's closer, "Letting Go," ends things off with a rosier, accepting outlook.
Though highly unlikely to unseat Hometowns or Departing as fan favourites, The Wild follows in the footsteps of the band's previous album, Mended with Gold, as a very strong album that doesn't yet hold the same sentimental value as their earlier material. The Rural Alberta Advantage are getting older, but haven't lost their home recording feel; although their latest effort is more bluntly honest and the lyrics are grimmer, there is a veiled optimism that sounds exactly like a cold, dark prairie winter. (Paper Bag)