Nick Thomas, the unabashedly emotive frontman of South Dakota band The Spill Canvas, thrives on the act of storytelling, even if it means spelling out vulnerability in excruciating detail. The band’s 2002 debut album, Go For The Jugular, was a formidable introduction to his venomous pen; betrayal, heartache and self-doubt undeniably shaped Thomas’ lyricism.
Over the years, however, he managed to fine-tune his angst so it was more accessible to listeners while still delivering cataclysmic one-liners on songs like “Polygraph, Right Now!” from 2005’s One Fell Swoop: “I’m the king of this pity party with my jewel-encrusted crown.” The Spill Canvas’s fourth album, No Really, I’m Fine, was released in 2007 and signified breakthrough success by cracking the Billboard Top 200. Its lead single, “All Over You,” stood at the record’s epicenter and is their most commercially successful song to date, marrying Thomas’ lyrical longing with a captivating chorus and radiant melodies. It also gained the group quite a following. Their last studio album, Gestalt, came out in 2012 and left things on a speculative note. When would we receive another full-length project from the musicians? And perhaps more importantly, what creative direction would it go in?
Enter Conduit, The Spill Canvas’ eighth studio album and their first in nearly a decade. The remaining four members include Thomas, as well as longtime bassist Landon Heil, drummer Bryce Job and lead guitarist Evan Pharmakis (Vanna/Wind in Sails). They’ve always approached songwriting with acute awareness, but what happens when those potent observations turn inward? The result is their most devastating and heartfelt work yet. Opening track “Architecture” is an infuriating account of destruction that is saturated in dramatic riffs, climactic crescendo and morose imagery. Thomas’s righteous indignation on the song serves as a foreshadowing of the tempestuous rollercoaster ride that is Conduit; he wails and screams so heartily that his wounds sound uncomfortably fresh.
There are lighter moments on the record that take the form of airy love songs such as “Calendars” and “Molecules” (featuring Eisley’s Sherri Dupree-Bemis). The former showcases the singer’s romantic and ruminative side as he reminds his lover, “I’m all yours until the calendars quit.” Dupree-Bemis adds a touch of ethereal dreaminess on “Molecules,” which softens Thomas’ ardor; their saccharine vocals sound sweeter when layered on top of each other. But Conduit excels when Thomas surrenders to the fury that has consumed him to the core.
It’s presented passionately on “Darkside” as theatrical chords enrapture a protagonist focused on his own demise: “I think we should rip ourselves apart for fun / A little self-indulgence never hurt anyone.” “Blueprints,” which is a letter to Thomas’ late mother, shares pain in its purest form. Losing a parent is agonizing but over the stringent rhythms, he tries to find peace with her death, even though he confesses it’s a “poor attempt at moving on.” He also shares that drugs and alcohol were his reprieve from sadness, but ultimately did more harm than good.
“Cost,” which features Nathan Hussey, is sonically heavy, with exhilarating buildups that start off as hushed soundscapes and explode into thunderous rage. “Akathisia,” which is the name of the movement disorder Thomas has suffered from, has a cleaner arrangement, but still possesses an urgency as he desperately tries to repent for his imperfections. Surprisingly, the title track ends things on a more buoyant note to convey resilience. Yes, Thomas is taxed with picking up the pieces of a turbulent existence—but it’s wholly feasible: “I’d rather die on my feet than live like this on my knees.” Conduit is a testimony to the power of unmitigated resolve despite all that life can throw at you. The emotionally bruised and battered frontman isn’t an anomaly—he’s the norm. Hearing him go toe to toe with his demons and win will give fans the fuel and courage to ultimately fight their own.
Candace McDuffie is a culture writer whose work has appeared in outlets like Rolling Stone, MTV, NBC News, and Entertainment Weekly. You can follow her on Instagram @candace.mcduffie.