[13 January 2008]
According to the lyrics of “Reckless Abandonment,” the opening track of their latest album, vocalist Nick Thomas and the fellows who make up South Dakota’s The Spill Canvas care very little about “pleasing all those little pricks and all their little scenes.” Nor do they “believe in anything that these critics go writing in their magazines.” What about those writing for online magazines? Ah, well…
Perhaps the band’s attitude is for the best, because there are certainly aspects of No Really, I’m Fine which warrant negative commentary. Too often, the band falls into the creative boxes and conventions of the emo/pop-punk/call it what you will genre that is currently dominating the modern rock landscape. Yet, there are also moments on the album that present the case for the Spill Canvas as a hope for the future. The band displays enough intensity and innovation to make the argument that they, more than other members of the current crop of young and dramatic rockers, may develop into a band that relies on equal measures of artistic viability and mass appeal.
Another turn of phrase on the album, from the immediately engaging single “All Over You”, shines light on a special quality the band displays at times throughout the record. In the context of the track, Thomas’s assertion “I really think it’s guts that matter most” is an argument for his rightful place at the side of a potential lover. But in tandem with the rest of the album, including the aforementioned lyrics of “Reckless Abandonment”, the line spells out a philosophy that may go a long way toward endearing the band to listeners.
The band seems to carry an us (and our fans) versus them (any and all comers) mentality throughout the album. This is in keeping with the steadfast bravado rock bands have clung to since the beginning of rock and roll. You get the sense that the Spill Canvas don’t care for those who don’t care for them. This should work in their favor, as selling out to your cause is the kind of selling out fans appreciate.
The band should also receive points for their occasional willingness to stretch some boundaries and work toward creativity. They just need to do so with greater frequency. An example of this achievement is the incorporation of funky rock rhythms and a horn section into what would have otherwise been the predictable “Low Fidelity”. The band also seems to be more predisposed than some of their sonic counterparts to writing ballads that are fairly original and stay clear of too many banalities. Despite its title, “Connect the Dots”, for example, is a far more sensual, appealing song than most bands of similar tastes have recently offered.
Additionally, the album contains a few tracks like “All Over You” which are quality cases of using more standard stylistic expressions for good. The song brims with energy and has a hook that is undeniable, no matter what you think of the sound it’s wrapped in.
Unfortunately, there are also a bevy of moments on the album which hinder or halt the progress made when the Spill Canvas are at their best. For a band that has the potential to separate itself from a pack of “emo” clones, there are far too many guitar licks, beats and vocal melodies that sound like components of tracks created by their contemporaries. Also, lyrics about “hush hush looks” (“Hush Hush”), about how parts of life feel like “one thousand paper cuts soaked in vinegar” (“Battles”), or addressing a girl with the phrase “forget what I said / you’re only good in bed or on your knees” (“The Truth”) do little to advance the cause of the band or their sound.
Ultimately, No Really, I’m Fine is a perplexing mix of excitement and frustration, potential and imprudence. The Spill Canvas can bring delight with future efforts, provided they consider the possibility of stretching out and trying more new things. The band may not care about or believe in my statements, but hopefully they can be encouraged to embrace the positive in their sound and discard the rest.