The Spill Canvas is a band that comes from very different origins than one would expect. Lead singer Nick Thomas was guitarist and backup vocalist for now-defunct Christian metalcore act Nodes of Ranvier when he started The Spill Canvas in 2002. Eventually, he quit Nodes of Ranvier and made the Spill Canvas a full-time project, and that decision has paid huge dividends. 2007’s No Really, I’m Fine peaked at No. 143 on the Billboard 200, and the single “All Over You” has become an anthem among fans. So far in 2010, the band released a pair of digital EPs, Abnormalities and Realities. The best songs from both EPs were then grouped with some acoustic tracks and other new songs to create the band’s latest full-length, Formalities. This compilation shows some interesting development by the band, along with plenty of traditional style.
Among the album’s non-acoustic tracks, “Good Graces, Bad Influence” stands out from the rest, mostly because it has the bombast and atmosphere of ska bands like Streetlight Manifesto and Big D and the Kids Table. With the party feeling pervading the entire track, this song has a much more upbeat and vibrant tone than most of the band’s other material. “The Bone” also is quite memorable, with a faster pace and more urgent delivery than everything else on the album. The track is reminiscent of the classic Foo Fighters song “One by One” in this sense, which is also quite different from the band’s usual output. Fans of the Spill Canvas’ most popular tracks will find plenty to enjoy on “Dust Storm”, “As Long As It Takes”, and “Crash Course”, all of which feature the band’s trademark elements.
The four acoustic tracks are a mixed offering, with some being more memorable than the songs they were based on, while others feel unnecessary when compared to their original songs. The acoustic version of “Our Song” is enhanced greatly by the use of background string arrangements at various points in the song, creating rich harmonies that don’t exist in the regular version. “10,000 Midnights” feels like it was meant to be an acoustic track all along, which might be why the original version doesn’t appear on the album, but the acoustic version does. However, “Dust Storm” lacks energy as an acoustic track, making the whole song drag and quickly become boring. “As Long As It Takes” suffers the same shortcomings in its acoustic version, although the use of hand drums saves the song from losing all of its appeal.
Overall, Formalities is a good stopgap release for the Spill Canvas, satiating die-hard fans waiting for a new album and giving new listeners insight into the full spectrum of their sound. This album also shows that the band is capable of expanding into vastly different territory from their traditional songs. If they continue experimenting with different styles, it may help to convert some that have criticized The Spill Canvas as being just another rock band singing about breakups. The proof is now present that they are capable of standing out from the pack very easily, if they just take the necessary steps to do so.