Although it's not really intentional, the reviewers
of EvilSponge seem to have distinct genres. This isn't really
set in stone; however knowing what we all like makes it easier
for Brendan to decide
who gets to review what. I'm usually the local Atlanta/Athens
music person, who also has a strong preference for garage rock
and/or bands from Texas. Apparently, these days, I'm also the
Power Pop/Post Punk person as well. Who knew?
All of this is a roundabout way to say that I had never heard
of Richmond Virginia's The Can Utility prior to be given their
new EP, Power 0.42. On the first listen, I can
see why the promotional material for this trio suggests that
they are a post-punk group. Musically, that seems to be a fairly
apt description. The underlying guitar melodies by Billy Davis
have the angular quality that one would expect. Likewise, the
bass of Noelle Schintzius carries much of the melodic work,
and seems more integral to the song construction than the stereotypical
one-note thump of more mainstream rock. Finally, drummer Sammy
Ponzar holds it all together in a fun, driving way that propels
the music quickly down its path. So, yep, musically we're looking
at a very solid post punk group.
However, what really sets The Can Utility apart are the vocals.
All three members sing. Furthermore, all three members sing
in completely different vocal styles, which isn't something
you come across often in the context of a rock band. First off,
Schintzius sings in a very melodic, trained style (similar to
the girl who sang in Atlanta band Crybaby)
instead of the usual female power punk vocal style. Admittedly,
on certain songs, like Merlins Blade, she does range
more towards the yelling spectrum, but even that sounds controlled
and lower-pitched than one might expect. Then there are the
two male vocalists. Having never seen The Can Utility live (and
since their CD doesn't give me any indication), Iím not sure
which one of the two male vocalists is which. So we'll just
call them Male Vocalist One and Male Vocalist Two.
Anyway, Male Vocalist One has the most traditional Indie rock
sound. He's slightly nasal when he sings and seems at times
higher pitched than Schintzius. On the songs where Male Vocalist
One and Schintzius interact, the interplay between the two vocal
lines are interesting and different, if only because of the
mix of somewhat whiny Indie Rock vocals with a more trained
vocalist. Nevertheless, the biggest vocal difference in The
Can Utility shows when Male Vocalist Two sings. You see, this
guy snarls in a guttural growl that is most reminiscent (for
me, at any rate) of a refugee from a death metal band. It's
totally not in keeping with the expectations I have from the
music and I'm not entirely sure I like it, but it does add a
completely different feel to The Can Utility's work.
That interesting vibe shows up in earnest on the third song
of Power 0.42. Blood for Heroes has the
hard and fast musical beat which is very post punk in its tone.
It also begins with the alternating vocals of Schintzius and
Male Vocalist One. However unlike the snotty call and response
vocals found in bands like The
Kiss Offs, the two vocalists of The Can Utility harmonize
with each other in a way which bring out the sultry and Indie
qualities, respectively. It's really a happy punk little song,
until Male Vocalist Two makes his appearance, uttering guttural
growls in the background. On the first listen, this juxtaposition
made me laugh, which may not have been the intended effect,
but it certainly kept my interest.
Likewise, Ronald Miller begins with an almost dream-pop,
albeit angular tone. Then, Male Vocalist Two takes over, although
he's less death metal on this song. Schintzius backs him up
with additional vocals, and in this case, the two singers voices
blend together in an appealing way. It's somewhat reminiscent
of Babe the Blue Ox, although less mellow in the overall effect.
Furthermore, I really like the way that the blending of the
vocals mess with the preconceived notions of what a post punk
trio should be. Similarly, Fish Don't Drink H20 isn't
like a typical math rock song. Admittedly the drumming reminds
me a bit of Plexorjet
and Schintzius's vocal line could be reproduced by many post
punk bands. However, her singing voice doesn't have the same
barking quality one might expect. Furthermore, this song again
features the guttural backing vocals, which return to give The
Can Utility their different sound.
In the end, I'm not exactly sure what to make of the band.
Musically, they seem like a very solid, albeit young band. However,
the vocal mixes and differences between the three members turn
them into something quite unusual and different. It's not something
I would have thought to blend, and it's not something that necessarily
grabs me. But the unexpected quality of most of the songs did
in fact get my attention and made me want to listen to the Can
Utility and their EP again.