reviewed by Kaitlin Ruether
So much of life happens in recurring patterns, and four-piece Lethbridge band The Utilities explore the looping machinations of the world through chill and steady folk-rock. Their first release in four years, but their fourth album overall, Heavy South sounds like the feeling of enchantment and mystery that comes with driving past the yellow plains and little pocket-forests of Alberta — or the feeling of realizing that while everything is changing, nothing is.
There has been much to reflect on in The Utilities’ years away from recording. Members have finished degrees, been married, and had children. This provides a steady wisdom that tracks through the record. Miscommunication and relationships are themes tackled on “Even Keel”, while feelings of being stuck come up on “Born To Work” and “Deep Freezing”. But at times it feels like the songwriting takes a step back to create an image so poignant it feels like sparks igniting, such as the repeated image of the “pigeon pushed into moving traffic” on “Pigeon”. It’s this attention to detail that keeps the record pulling its punches.
The folksy influences draw from the greats of the past: there’s a little Neil Young in the swing of the vocals — particularly on “Hangdog”, and a little of the dance-around-the-meaning songwriting finesse of Joni Mitchell as the lyrics become concrete and dance with the melody, as on “Muzzle on the Dog”. Everything wraps around itself on Heavy South, culminating in the slow build of the delicate-to-steady “Deep Freezing”, which makes texture a cornerstone and feels both fresh and soulfully familiar. Like “Habitude”, “Deep Freezing” uses sparkling instrumentation to create a lightness that keeps the tone positive.
Perhaps The Utilities needed time away from recording to create an album with such a keen sense of the world’s patterns; maybe the melodies needed to simmer to becomes these complex and ensnaring finished products. Whatever the secret, the songwriting on Heavy South lingers before diving head-first into sensation. It’s nostalgia that isn’t afraid to bounce around, but also won’t hesitate with meticulous observations.
Top Tracks: “Deep Freezing”, “Pigeon”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)