Adopting an on-stage aesthetic that borders on the insane and producing singles to date that are similarly macabre, SPQR’s game plan so far has seemingly been to really get under people’s skin. Melodic and more than a little eccentric, they investigate the darker side of life, and none more so than on The House That Doubt Built.
Strewn with insecurities and a sense of discomfort, it unfortunately comes as no surprise that the Liverpool trio’s debut EP was written on the back of a deep depression that enveloped vocalist and guitarist Peter Harrison. Exhilarating in the release clearly felt (articulated by Harrison on several occasions) when performing these songs, there’s nonetheless a melancholy that seeps into every crack of the EP, no doubt a window into Harrison’s mind at this time.
Harrison’s approach to the depths he clearly found himself in however translate in an engaging fashion on the record. Despite being fully aware of the issues he faces, expressed for example on the opening track, ‘’Or So I Say’’, via his repeated ‘’I can’t remember why I’m so special,’’ Harrison’s acceptance and honesty on the subject goes hand in hand with a general rejection to roll over and give in. Aside from the interesting implications of the title, in which doubt itself has turned its hand to construction and housing, Harrison’s honesty regarding this depression is split between his battling the beast or frankly discussing his suffering. The heart-breaking closer, ‘’Dystopia,’’ on which he is alone with a piano, contains pleas to ‘’free me from this melancholy’’, Harrison relaying ‘’my dystopia, my struggle to survive,’’ whereas the Queens of the Stone Age-esque ‘’Life Would Be Easy’’ opens with the determined ‘’I want what’ll set me free,’’ a combative and forceful statement from the young musician. It’s a proactive stance from Harrison from start to finish, and it gives the EP a fire that matches Harrison’s intensity wonderfully.
The lurching and frenetic nature of the record as a whole goes hand in hand with this overarching theme, drummer Bex Denton and bassist Jack Sanders putting in impressive shifts to keep pace with Harrison’s regular freak-outs. From the art-rock vibe of ‘’Suffer’’ to the more expansive ‘’Whatever Weather,’’ they continually push Harrison to the next level, accompanying him to any depths he seems willing to venture in to. Indeed, it is on ‘’Whatever Weather’’ that the band, and Harrison in particular, really come into their own. His frustration is most visible here, disbelief in his voice as he questions, ‘’This life is a lie, don’t you mind?’’ The exasperation in the whole performance on this track is breath-taking, and the best indication here as to what SPQR can achieve moving forward.
Certainly not without its faults, the sheer weight of emotion and quality of the performances on The House That Doubt Built make it an EP worthy of praise. Harrison’s approach to his depression in the public sphere is equally one of confrontation and honesty, though never one of denial, resulting in five tracks that are powerful and at times highly impressive. As Harrison himself puts it rather aptly, ‘’I sold myself to everyone/And now everyone can see my soul.’’