The Rural Alberta Advantage begs for Neutral Milk Hotel comparisons—see Paul Banwatt’s nasal shout, or the ubiquitous fuzzed-out acoustic guitar—but they aren’t entirely deserved. That’s certainly no knock: Hometowns, the band’s just-reissued 2008 album, is a well-crafted bit of folk that needn’t stand on the shoulders of giants. Especially the wrong giants. So the opening bars of “Frank, AB” sound a bit like Jeff Mangum’s handiwork, as do those horns on “Luciana.” As a whole, though, Hometowns trades in understated arrangements and empty space. An intricate cymbal line underlies the album-opener, “The Ballad Of The RAA,” while spare interplay between an organ and a couple of drums props up “In The Summertime.” Even a fast-paced song like “Don’t Haunt This Place” eschews guitar, relying instead on clipped drums and mournful strings. Banwatt is a screamer, but his songs are precise, delicate creatures.
The Toronto-by-way-of-rural-Alberta band is better understood through its lyrics—atmospheric meditations on small life and love. Apartments grow “lonely and dark,” Edmonton is a “four-night bike ride” away, and love is “unbearably harmful.” These are some of the saddest songs anyone would ever want to sing along to, but they’re all sing-alongs in the mold of the band’s new label, Saddle Creek: forceful and occasional rowdy, but vulnerable all the same.