Mended With Gold by The Rural Alberta Advantage
My choice for #1 this year has no doubt flummoxed a few of you, and is completely obvious to a few more. The Rural Alberta Advantage are a polarizing kind of group, one that I’ve loved for the entirety of their short musical careers, and one I am continually surprised by their rather meager following. This trio from Toronto is consistently great, as evidenced by all three of their full-length records having been placed in my Top 10 for each of the years they came out. (Their debut, Hometowns, was #6 in 2009, and their 2011 album, Departing, was my #2 that year.)
Even though their name is unnecessarily complex, the songs that The Rural Alberta Advantage play are simple. The lyrics tend not to be obtuse in their telling of loss, love and life. The chord structures chosen by lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Nils Edenloff are basic. The keyboards played and background vocals sung by Amy Cole are straightforward. But just because something lacks surprise doesn’t mean it’s not fantastic. Sometimes expected, tried and true is exactly what is needed. And that’s what the RAA have given us with this album.
There is one surprise in the band: drummer Paul Banwatt. I could write an entirely different post just about his drumming on all three of the band’s albums. With Mended With Gold, the RAA nicely modified the levels of each player to showcase their strengths. There are multiple opportunities for Banwatt to blow us away with his frenetic percussion and Cole to shine as her voice rings clear as a bell when paired with Edenloff’s nasal lead vocal.
One could argue that the RAA’s new album, Mended With Gold, isn’t as good as the critically-acclaimed 2014 output from, say, The War on Drugs (my #13), or Run the Jewels (my #28), and according to KEXP listeners and Pitchfork writers, who respectively ranked those bands as their #1 albums of the year, you’d be right. From what I can tell, The Rural Alberta Advantage didn’t make any other countdown’s #1 slot, and it looks as if they didn’t make many year-end countdowns at all.
And that’s not to say those other countdowns are wrong. The Bacon Top 31 isn’t a compilation of opinions. It’s my opinion, and mine alone. And I’m not judging albums on technical merit or the place they hold in the echelon of all recorded music. A lot goes into what makes a #1 album for me, and the decision to put this album at #1 was not easy (as you could tell by my review of Elbow’s brilliant album at #2). It just shows that the RAA’s amazing Mended With Gold played a bigger role — the biggest role — for me this year. That’s it. Nothing scientific here. In the future, when I look back on 2014, Mended With Gold will be the album I remember as the soundtrack for the year.
I listened to this album, and the band’s other two albums, a lot in 2014. It’s been a very up and down year for me, personally, and the liveliness of the RAA catalog has stuck with me and helped me through it all. These songs were never background material — they were always front and center, demanding my attention and distracting me when I wanted it most.
The band played the Croc this year, back in October, to their first ever sold-out show in Seattle, and I was there. The set they played matched closely with the two previous times I’d seen the band, and the new songs from Mended With Gold fit right in. This new album is the RAA’s best yet, as the strength of the new songs when paired with the older songs clearly showed during their set.
And there we have it, my Top 31 albums of 2014. Now having compiled this list for 6 years, I feel I’m finding my groove. I’m always thinking about the list throughout the year (I’m already listening to things that will definitely be on the 2015 list). And by the time November rolls around I start shaping the list, questioning what will be in the Top 10. This year was no different than previous years, in that things continued to move up and down as the month of December crept on. And the Top 5 were shuffling around right up until I posted tUnE-yArDs at #6.
It’s always fun trying to look at these albums objectively, picking apart exactly what it is that draws me to them. That’s really why I elect to write about each album. It gives me perspective, on music, and on the year. So here’s to another year of great music. I hope you’ve enjoyed listening as much as I have.
2. The Take Off and Landing of Everything by Elbow
3. They Want My Soul by Spoon
4. Are We There by Sharon Van Etten
5. And The War Came by Shakey Graves
6. Nicky Nack by tUnE-yArDs
7. Not Art by Big Scary
8. The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett by Eels
9. Owl John by Owl John
10. LP1 by FKA Twigs
11. Black Hours by Hamilton Leithauser
12. Give the People What They Want by Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
13. Lost in the Dream by The War On Drugs
14. Warpaint by Warpaint
15. Heal by Strand of Oaks
16. Stay Gold by First Aid Kit
17. This is All Yours by ∆
18. Brill Bruisers by The New Pornographers
19. Only Run by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
20. Augustines by Augustines
21. El Pintor by Interpol
22. I Never Learn by Lykke Li
23. Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes by Thom Yorke
24. The Voyager by Jenny Lewis
25. Voices by Phantogram
26. Morning Phase by Beck
27. Hungry Ghosts by OK Go
28. Run the Jewels 2 by Run the Jewels
29. Cosmos by Yellow Ostrich
30. Teeth Dreams by The Hold Steady
31. With Light & With Love by Woods