“Beacon Hill” – The Rural Alberta Advantage

The Rural Alberta Advantage captured critics’ attention in 2009 with their first album, Hometowns, which introduced a unique style of driving, pained, indie rock with a dash of north-woods folk. Since then, Nils Edenloff’s nasally howling vocals have continued to inspire an emotional, and heavily Canadian, fan base with their frantic percussion lines from drummer Paul Banwatt and instrumentals from Amy Cole.

The band’s most recent single, “Beacon Hill,” comes as a tribute to those affected by wildfires which, according to CNN, recently dislocated more than 80,000 people and burned more than 1.4 million acres in Alberta, Canada. Most affected was Edenloff’s hometown, Fort McMurray, which inspired him to write the single, named after the neighborhood damaged most severely in the blaze.

The single keeps in step with the rest of the band’s music – quick crescendoeing drums, simple flat chord progressions, and Edenloff’s acute anguish half-shouted over Cole’s more gentle vocal echoes. The lyrics are personal, sincere, and yet cryptically emotional. Even the volume and intensity develop similarly to other RAA tunes. Ostensibly, the single has everything it needs to please an RAA fan without too much convincing.

However, there’s something missing from the soul of the song that makes the others so memorable. RAA has stretched traditional formula before in songs like “On The Rocks,” which employed a more modern and urban take, but even in those songs the central feeling remains the same. There’s a simple gritty anger to the music that touches a very human chord in the listener – a component which feels faint or even masked in the new single.

The song seems almost to be produced by an algorithm, given its accurate conglomeration of ingredients but lack of perfect RAA soul. Admittedly, the rawness is there in some forms and the song is enjoyable to listen to, but it doesn’t quite capture the ear the way RAA does with its other work. All together, the piece is a lovely tribute to the victims of a terrible disaster, but lacks a bit of the soul present in many of RAA’s other work.

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