Photograph by Anna M. Campbell

As Ca Va Cool concludes its fifth year and the arbitrary music-ranking period of 2011 comes to a close, the gang assembled (virtually) once again to bring you our twenty favourite albums of the year. The bottom half of our list features riot grrrls old and new, an R&B resurrection, and, interestingly, most of the Philadelphia rock scene. Stay tuned for the conclusion of our list with the ten best albums of 2011, when we get around to it.

20. The Rural Alberta Advantage Departing

Arriving in the dead of winter early this year, Departing lived up to high expectations by not really departing at all from the rock ‘n’ nostalgia formula that powered the Rural Alberta Advantage’s 2009 debut Hometowns. A new batch of crafty songs from Nils Edenloff continues to blur the line between homesickness and heartbreak; Paul Banwatt’s manic beats continue to provide the gasoline. Feeling more and more comfortable in their shoes as a dedicated three-piece ensemble, Edenloff, Banwatt, and keyboardist Amy Cole focus on what they’re best at: compelling, unpretentious indie-folk drawn through the emotional mesh of all that we must leave behind. Plus some kickass drums. — Josh Penslar

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— , December 19, 2011    1 Comment

Photograph by Steven Walter

South by Southwest is kind of like the Twitter of music festivals. It’s peppy, popular, easy to mock, highly corporate and desperate to hide that fact with little stabs at techy subversiveness. The scene on the ground is as though social networking itself was suddenly given life by a trickster god, as musicians of every flavour and every level of grunginess mingle with industry suits and club kids on spring break. Iffy metaphors aside, the festival deserves its widespread reputation as a hipster-heavy network-a-thon that saturates Austin from downtown to the sticks with more man-hours of music than could possibly be experienced in a standard human year. It’s fun.

I arrive in Austin before the official beginning of the music festival, while the interactive tech and film expos are still in full swing, and before you can say “Wes Anderson” I’m comfortably installed on a patio, chatting with a group of Portlanders about different brands of free-range chicken. I’m off to a comfortable head start on all my stereotypes.

The main drag on Sixth Street is already fairly happening, though it’ll get exponentially more clogged as the week goes on. I spy a familiar face through the open window of the Bat Bar: it’s icon of awkwardness Michael Cera, playing bass with his supergroup-of-a-sort Mister Heavenly. The band is rounded by members of the Unicorns, Man Man, and Modest Mouse, but it’s pretty clear who the gaggle of college girls are crowding around to see, cell phones straining upwards for photos like a curious herd of electric giraffes.

Mister Heavenly – Mister Heavenly

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— , May 10, 2011    3 Comments

All Photographs by Vanessa Heins

When last we spoke to the Rural Alberta Advantage, Canada’s premier suppliers of hard-driving indie folk and small-town nostalgia, they were a friendly, fresh-faced band with the glow of recently signing with Saddle Creek for their debut album. Recently at South by Southwest, they were a friendly, fresh-faced band with the glow of recently dropping their outstanding sophomore album. They look good in glow. Ca Va Cool’s Josh Penslar joined forces with Mathew Katz of Colorado’s KDNK Radio in an alley behind Home Slice Pizza in Austin, Texas to talk with the trio about their SXSW experiences, being Canadian in the States, the proper relation between Texas and Alberta, and what covers the band is secretly prepared to play if you ask nicely. 

The Rural Alberta Advantage – Stamp
The Rural Alberta Advantage – Eye of the Tiger

Ca Va Cool: How’s the festival been so far? Exhausting at all? 

Amy Cole: I dunno, we’ve been good. Yesterday we played our shows and we went back to the house we’re staying in and went to bed at an extremely reasonable hour. I think it was 11 PM. [Laughs] We’re really boring. But it was good for us, because now we’re energized for the rest of the fest. We had a long drive the previous day, so now I think we’re ready to really experience things. 

CVC: Where were you guys coming from? 

Amy: Atlanta. 

CVC: That’s a big one. So I hear you’ve played South By before. How does this year compare? 

Paul Banwatt: I mean, we’re veterans, you know? We’ve been around the block. For example, we call it ‘South By’. We don’t feel like we have to… 

Amy: I just say South. 

Paul: Sometimes we’re just like S-X. 

Amy: You know what I mean. 

Paul: Every year is fun here. Our first year was definitely special cause we came down and got signed. So every year after that is a bit of a disappointment because we can never top that experience. But it’s still really fun and everyone keeps coming out to our shows. We’re playing like six shows, so the fact that there’s people there at every single one, that’s crazy. 

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— , March 31, 2011    Comments Off on The Rural Alberta Advantage

Photograph by Vanessa Heins

Expectations should be higher than average for Departing since the Rural Alberta Advantage’s debut Hometowns was such a revelation: unpretentious, compelling indie folk drawn through the emotional mesh of all that we must leave behind. Plus, it had some kickass drums. Hometowns was also Ca Va Cool’s runner-up for album of the year in 2009, which is a lot for anyone to deal with — we’re all worried about how Arcade Fire are going to handle it this year — but somehow the RAA have overcome the pressure, and barring a local music explosion of 2003ian proportions, Departing is on track to be one of the best Canadian releases of the year. The only way it fails to live up to Hometowns is by not arriving as a total surprise. It crackles with the same intelligence and intensity and good-natured melancholy that kept Hometowns on repeat for longer than I’d like to admit.

The title Departing is curious, either a wink or a bit of wishful thinking, since the band definitely hasn’t left the space occupied by their debut. Like Hometowns, Departing is about the cities we lead our lives in and the romantic partners we share our lives with, and what happens to them and to us when they move out of our lives and into our histories. Edmonton is treated like a girlfriend who has drifted away, complete with hard feelings and awkward reunions. Unnamed ex-lovers suggest streets and landmarks full of memory. In this context, love and loss manage to sound fresh and penetrating instead of fading into familiar singer-songwriter mush.

The strength of the RAA’s sound is still its simplicity. Paul Banwatt’s manic beats sit up front with reedy vocals by Nils Edenloff (and occasionally Amy Cole) and never have to fight for space. The new album shows the stretch marks of a bigger budget — tour receipts probably paid for some nicer microphones, which can be dangerous to a charming DIY sound, but Departing pulls through with plenty of raucousness when it’s needed. The best rock tracks here, ‘Stamp’ and ‘Barnes’ Yard’, make appropriate use of better production values, while more reflective tracks like ‘North Star’ enjoy the rawness that worked so well on Hometowns.

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— , February 22, 2011    1 Comment

It’s hard to remember that February even happened, and why would you want to now that spring is well underway? Here at Ca Va Cool we have a pretty good memory, at least where music is concerned, and we think back to those chilly February days and remember that Woodhands had a new album less than a month old and were playing a show in Vancouver that would put some serious heat into our bones.

I had a chance to sit down with Paul Banwatt of Woodhands and The Rural Alberta Advantage a day before the show at my favourite coffee shop in Kitsilano. Having just reviewed the recently released Remorsecapade, we thought we should sit on the interview for a while. Now, a few months later Woodhands has released a remix album, obviously titled Remixcapade, featuring some substantially dialed-down remixes by touring-mate Diamond Rings and others. It’s available for free download from Paper Bag Records.

Woodhands – Pockets (Diamond Rings Mix)
Woodhands – Dissembler (French Husband Mix)

Justin: The new album just came out, are you happy with the result?

Paul Banwatt: Yeah. It’s a weird thing, we were super excited about it but also kind of scared. It’s really different for us then Heart Attack was. We felt like it was a little bit deeper and darker and maybe a little less instantly appealing. It might be a couple of listens before you start to feel some of the songs on there. The response from critics so far has been so overwhelmingly positive that we’re like “People are getting this, this is awesome.” It makes us really confident going forward to keep pushing ourselves that way. It’s like, if this is still cool, then watch out.

Justin: Is there even crazier stuff in store? Is there new stuff that isn’t on the album?

Paul: Well we always do, because our songs tend to come from a lot of different places. A lot of them come from jams we just come up with while we’re in the middle of a show. We use to do a lot more just straight improvisation than we do now, but we still do a lot. There was a time when we use to have a residency in Toronto every month and we would just play hour long shows of just pure improvisation. Those kinds of things are where a lot of the songs come from and they can get really crazy. Just weird electro-freakouts that we realize sound kind of cool and try to turn into a song later.

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— , May 28, 2010    Comments Off on Woodhands