Emo, as far as the contemporary understanding of it goes, is known for being many things: self-indulgent, cathartic, pretentious, whiny, powerful, and of course, overly emotional in both content, delivery, and aesthetic. Often the best of quintessential mid-00s emo—such as “All Over You,” the 2007 hit from Sioux Falls rockers The Spill Canvas—will hit all these notes at once, switching between affective modes as effortlessly as one changes band tees. And yet, of all the emotional registers of rock music, emo is very rarely—if ever—considered to be horny.
Casting the widest possible net, trawling through the Internet turns up plenty of lists for emo break-up songs to ‘scream-cry’ to, or songs with lyrics you absolutely scratched into objects during high school, or endless variations on the ‘forgotten emo anthems of Myspace’ theme. But sad and steamy songs for those emos running a little hot under the collar? Not so much.
Conduit, the newest full-length effort from the Dakotan quartet and their first album in close to a decade—is a horny record in every sense of the word: titillating, exciting, and emotionally arousing. And look, before you raise those eyebrows in judgement and jump straight to the mind gutter, let me explain.
Listening to Conduit’s incredibly catchy pre-release singles, there’s an emotional urgency beneath the surface that’s barely contained by lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Nick Thomas’ sultry delivery. While the pop-flavored verses of “Firestorm” allow bassist Landon Heil and drummer Bryce Job to show off some gentle push-pull dynamics, Thomas croons about waking up on fire, melting at the touch of a lover’s kiss, and looking to “ignite the way of [their] bad behavior.” People often speak of love—or perhaps more accurately, lust—as starting with the romantic spark of attraction. And yet, for Thomas, that spark is already an inferno and it’s blazing right through him.
On the standout, guitar-driven “Darkside,” Thomas gives in completely to his carnal desires. Dancing around lead guitarist Evan Pharmakis’ (ex-Vanna, Wind In Sails) playful riffs, Thomas’ sticky performance on the track’s pre-chorus makes the horniness explicit: “Oh, you’re no better than me/ And incidentally, we both deserve the agony/ Oh, and in between the sheets/ Your screams resonate into the city streets.” In the next verse, throwing back to some 00s-era Coheed and Cambria vocal inflections, Thomas goes full Daddy by twisting a “kink” and telling his chosen partner to follow his lead. What’s a little fun between consenting adults, right? After all, “a little self-indulgence never hurt anyone.”
Thankfully, there’s more to Conduit than just steamy emo bang anthems. Album opener “Architects” is a searing indictment of the music “business” and the need for artistic creativity. Against delicate synth flourishes and Pharmakis’ soaring melodic licks, Thomas alludes to the band’s inception and early fame at the height of the 00s emo boom (“Moving units/Feeding bullshit/The pay is better when you make ‘em holler) and 2007’s No Really, I’m Fine, which saw release through Warner Music.
Elsewhere, the country-tinged “Blueprints” is a mournful reflection on loss, focusing on Thomas’ grief at the death of his mother. Complemented by bursts of yearning strings, the frontman confronts his childhood, his past with poly substance abuse, and ultimately, the futility of closure—all leading to a swelling chorus: “This is a poor attempt at moving on/ This is me, reluctantly, giving your death a song/In doing so, I get lifted from the low/So if only for a moment, it won’t feel like you’re gone.”
However, throughout much of Conduit, love and devotion ultimately win out over fleeting flirtations with lust. Both the up-tempo, electro-infused “Calendars” and the touching slow-burn “Molecules” were written for Thomas’ wife, making good use of a feminine counterpoint with fragile backing vocals from Eisley’s Sherri Dupree Bemis.
Thomas’ devotion goes even deeper on the vulnerable “Akathisia,” named after a condition Thomas suffered from after switching medications for his schizoaffective disorder. Featuring a spectacular lead performance from Pharmakis, the track functions as a gut-wrenching apology to Thomas’ “muse” and “panacea,” thanking her for sticking by his side: “I wish you didn’t have to deal with this/ Dealing with all the bullshit between the crackle and the hiss.”
With only a few sequencing missteps on the back end, Conduit is a beautiful bridge between the old and new for The Spill Canvas. Long-time fans will find much to love about this release, with just enough emo heyday nostalgia to prop up the band’s newer sonic explorations. Meanwhile, newfound devotees will also be won over by the group’s compelling compositions. And, as they say, love conquers all.
Pre-order Conduit here.