SPICE leans into uncertainty on its sonically rich, cautiously optimistic self-titled debut

Photo Courtesy of Dais Records

The self-titled debut of the Bay Area band SPICE sounds more like a third or fourth album from an accomplished rock group. The five piece carefully balances post-punk and indie rock while powering through nine cathartic songs with an underlying thread of optimism.

Running only 25 minutes, SPICE, with its stirring rock arrangements, never fails to hold attention and even could stand to go a few songs more. Producer Sam Pura does a good job of accommodating each instrument into a spacious mix, giving a certain emphasis to vocals and guitar.

The short record is largely characterized by Ian Simpson’s catchy lead guitar parts such as the cool mini riff between the verses of “All My Best Shit,” the surf-y strumming on “Reward Trip,” or the long, drawn out outro of “The Building Was Gone.” Had the album been longer, I would’ve had no problem listening to more of his thoughtful playing or bassist Cody Sullivan’s occasional low-end flourishes.

Two of SPICE’s members, singer Ross Farrar and drummer Jake Casarotti, also play in the punk band Ceremony. But on SPICE, the two forgo their more aggressive styles to meld with Simpson, Sullivan and violinist Victoria Skudlarek, forging a unique musical identity that embraces a more upbeat rock sound.

The closest the debut veers into Ceremony’s previously charted territories is on the straightforward punk song “Black Car.” Farrar’s lyrics give off an impression of danger while guitars thunder, bass growls and drums blast. But, along with the droning, despairing track “26 Dogs,” “Black Car” serves its purpose as a heavy song on an album that’s predominantly indie rock.

As well as being well-crafted musically, many of the songs on SPICE are also colored by deliberate instances of talking and ambient chatter. The anxious but energetic opener, “First Feeling,” aptly starts with a member of the band saying, “alright, go.” Other moments such as the instrumental break on the well-structured post-punk song “Murder” might not be as hypnotizing without the chatter drawing in the listener’s attention.

Even the contemplative closer, “I Don’t Wanna Die in New York,” closes with dialogue elevated by Skudlarek’s violin. “It’s very hard to change but things are better now, I guess,” the speaker ultimately resolves. The live album feel SPICE often incorporates on its debut gives the songs an extra warmth and presence that gives the listener a sense that they’re in on the album’s secrets along with the band.

SPICE’s debut album provides a short, cathartic break from even the most stressful of days, serving as a useful reminder that most people out there are dealing with the same anxieties as you. The remedy, the album suggests, is that instead of fighting chaos and uncertainty, we lean into it.

4.5/5

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