Sound: Cut like the heart that envoked pain and miserable states of emotion in the group's previous releases, Formalities can't seriously be considered a full-length disc. Part of that is because The Spill Canvas sloppily pieced together two EPs to make up the 11 tracks embodied on the album. Does it take away from the music itself? No, but two unreleased songs don't fulfill the needs and wants of loyal fans. Nonetheless, the South Dakota alternative quartet deliver in some ways, washing their emotional punk testaments in alt acoustic ridden with mainstream pop.
Followers have noted the change in tone for several years now but Formalities marks the complete crossover. "Our Song" represents a hit in-the-making from a premature Lifehouse while "Good Graces, Bad Influence" complexes with a strange verse but nails ears to the wall with a chorus reminiscent of reckless emotion found in One Fell Swoop's heavier numbers. The pleading for such nostalgia isn't answered as The Spill Canvas lean more towards a pop side that can't find appreciation under a dim spotlight.
One major highlight of the dual EP creation is the addition of acoustic versions. These renditions double the laziness factor of the full-length, but overshadow the fueled recordings. The prime example is "Dust Storm"; barren with an alternative mask thanks to the studio, it sounds like a No Really, I'm Fine b-side when stripped down to southern twang and exposed. But alas, its musicianship doesn't contribute to helping the band's release not look like a complete stranger. // 6
Lyrics: In the early 2000s', The Spill Canvas were almost seen as shy emo sweethearts with lost-love lines of poetic art accompanied by sweet yet toxic melodies. But their trademark style refrained them from being mentioned in the same breath as The Used and My Chemical Romance as they were seen more as young adults who feed on acoustic heartbreak. Such a definition drove poetry like "Self-Conclusion" and "Bound To Happen" and although Formalities lacks the self-examination, it still contains broken pieces of the group's haunting lyrical talent. Not shadowed by pop and its sugary guts is singer Nick Thomas' vocals which still contain the same rasp and emotional power The Spill Canvas started with in 2002. Add in acoustic dopplegangers and Thomas still hasn't changed a bit despite being refined by the change in musical direction. // 8
Overall Impression: The Spill Canvas swooned crushes and mended uncomfortable heartbreaks but all that seems lost on Formalities. The mainstream push has forced the group to strain to catch one's attention with a change no one approves of when they've already impressed a million times before. Nick Thomas and company still haven't lost their youthful angst but they have forgotten how to portray it and trying to do so through an EP hybrid that provokes laughs not tears show's a weakness the band never seemed to have. // 6
- Joshua Khan (c) 2010