It’s a shame that SPICE’s self-titled debut ultimately became lost in the spacetime haze that was the early pandemic, as it was a pretty strong little listen. Compared to vocalist Ross Farrar and drummer Jake Caserotti’s work in Ceremony, it was much more heady and melodic, draped in shades of ‘90s indie and emo to augment a far more palatable flavour of punk that, from Ceremony, can typically fall apart way too easily. More than that though, SPICE can ride a wave of alternative creativity with such fluidity, partly down to violinist Victoria Skudlarek whose tempered but noteworthy contributions still make a difference, but also because they don’t feel bound to ‘90s nostalgia. It’s prominent without astroturfing intent, something which made the small waves of their debut at least persist. To build on that, the determination to be more than just a side-project is palpable, both in the sharp rate in which this follow-up has been released, and how much SPICE have already committed to reshaping their sound. On Viv, punk is more of a peripheral tone and attitude, as the band lean deeper into emo and grunge to facilitate a wider, spacier sound. It’s akin to where Turnstile took GLOW ON in a way, as a logical next step towards something that’s both more forward-thinking and accessible, but SPICE remain their own beast. The opening pair of Recovery and Any Day Now set the scene perfectly; the mood is set with the crystalline cascades of guitars and held together by taut bass work and crisp drums, and punctuated by the violin to heighten the melancholy. At its best, there are some spellbinding results, particularly in Live Scene and everything comes together around a poppier epicentre for the album’s most bracing moment, but Spice seldom make any real missteps, in truth.
It’s all very indicative of just how good this wave of alt-rock can be and what it can achieve when balanced to such a degree. SPICE are a weathered, emotional collective that dispense of artifice before the thought is even put on the table, and they present themselves accordingly in how great Viv sounds. For what they’re trying to achieve, there are no complaints with the production, as the band opt for a Will Yip-esque school of emo empowerment that lets the gruff, sepia tones shine and the clears the way for every instrumental part to carry itself. Even among this style, there’s an openness to SPICE’s sound that shouldn’t go overlooked, particularly when it comes to basslines that jump out with such robustness. As for Farrar’s role, he’s not a tremendous technical vocalist, but there’s mood to his performances that lends a pensive edge to Ashes In The Birdbath or Bad Fade. The degree of airtight composition goes all the way down, the only piece of flab coming in the rather ho-hum interlude Melody Drive, but even that’s not a total wash. It sets a scene nicely enough with its vocal samples and nocturnal shimmers of guitar to substantiate any notions of SPICE having a real chokehold on commanding the atmosphere in the music. And that remains true of Viv as a whole; it’s not enormously long but there’s a nice density to in in terms of how each piece comes together and leaves an impression. Honestly, it’s more self-evidently great than anything else, indebted to sources that would allow for that with enough of its own identity to fully cement SPICE as a cool, intriguing new force. The potential this has to leave a crater in modern alt-rock is staggering, and it’ll hopefully come about as soon as possible.
For fans of: Basement, Superheaven, Fiddlehead
‘Viv’ by SPICE is released on 20th May on Dais Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall