Just to quickly put this album in perspective; Take The Shins and cross it with Neutral Milk Hotel (ignore the video, and listen to the music), you’ll get something approaching The Rural Alberta Advantage. I’m not claiming that it’s better than either of those (rather great) bands, but it certainly is very, very good. For a first album, it’s switching on all of the buttons of a more mature band without flicking off the ones that I love about a young one. They’re brash, reckless and enthusiastic while remaining introspective, earnest and eloquent. I’ll just throw you in the direction of a song to listen to while reading the rest of the review. Here it is. (Again, ignore the video).
For an indie band there is a wide spectrum of different genres that are traversed in this thirteen track album, some of them rather surprising. It starts with The Ballad of the RAA, a supressed cry accompanied by synthesised organs and a muted drum beat. It’s an odd song to start with, as there are so many punchy songs later on in the album, but it is certainly rather quaint. Nils Edenloff’s voice cracks at the high end, but that’s what makes me love this type of music; it’s entirely earnest and entirely without any sort of reservation about how it sounds. In fact I’d much rather listen to any number of ever so slightly off key vocals from bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, The Dodos or RAA than anything sung without heart but with every note pitch perfect, but that’s beside the point.
The album begins to pick up on the second and third tracks, Rush Apart and The Dethbridge in Lethbridge, the latter of which is my favourite track on the album. The dischordant guitars accompanied by the almost military drumbeat makes the lyrics ‘I left your heartbeat in this town…/…. I’ll let you down when you’re grandfather’s in the ground” seem wonderfully ominous and almost downright threatening. Paul Banwatt’s bashing of the cymbols during the chorus accompany the raw anger on Nils’ vocals, driving the whole song to a head. It’s rather brilliant.
Of course there are far too many songs on the album to go into each in detail, but the album never stays still for too long, moving from a fast paced rousing rythm to a moving ballad. Particularly Luciana, another brilliant track, serves to draw on the dischord of the guitar to drag the vocals towards the chorus, creating something altogether seperate from what seems to be intended. For most of the song you can barely make out the words, the voice merely sounding angry at anything within reach. It works particularly well in this case, but the technique is used throughout the album, especially in the track Edmonton, a far simpler song that is more lament than anger, but is easily as moving.
Overall Hometowns is a brilliant indie record that I actually find myself enjoying consistently more than I did Aeroplanes Over the Sea (Neutral Milk Hotel’s opus), and, while it may not be quite as moving, it is an excellent album despite all that, and it’s an utter wonder why they haven’t been snapped up by a record label yet, if only to let me buy the album for a few of my more discerning friends for Christmas.