|Hold The Phone
|The Leaf Is A Chorus
|See A Sky
|Entropy Transfer Partners
|My Favorite Song
|Picture of a Person
|A Long Walk in a Sunflower_s Shade
|The Sweet Oak
Spirits Having Fun records are ones made from and for shows and spaces—arrangements rooted in a deeply collaborative process, that come to life through intuitive and locked-in live improvisation. Following their 2019 debut Auto-Portrait, Two finds the New York and Chicago based four-piece continuing to challenge ideas of what a rock band can be, pulling apart their musical experiences and reimagining them as kinetic compositions, equally studied but palpably organic.
Two is constructed around gut feelings and strong grooves, elastic rhythms and playful pacing. Its twelve songs expand, contract, and make sharp turns between melodies under singer-guitarist Katie McShane’s meditative lyrics. “Broken Cloud,” which was also released last year on a compilation in support of Chicago Community Jail Support, offers a glimpse into her reflections on the natural world: "A city grew out of the ground / to a mountain it's only a blur."
True to its name, the internal logic of the band is also just a lot of fun, built on trust and deep-rooted musical relationships. Before there was Spirits Having Fun, McShane, bassist Jesse Heasly, guitarist-vocalist Andrew Clinkman, and drummer Phil Sudderberg had performed together in various arrangements over the years. McShane, Heasly and Clinkman met in a specific corner of the Boston underground in 2013, a time when a scene had coalesced around students from local music conservatories frequently collaborating with punk bands and noise artists, exchanging ideas and warping musical worldviews. Heasly and Clinkman played together in Cowboy Band, making mutant, free jazz-inspired takes on old country tunes. When Clinkman moved to Chicago, Heasly and McShane played in experimental groups like EKP and Listening Woman; in Chicago, Clinkman met Sudderberg playing in projects like jazz scene fixture Ken Vandermark’s high-powered band Marker.
Spirits first came together as an attempt at a long-distance collaboration among friends in 2016, driven by the simple feeling of missing each other; they’d meet up for marathon weekends here and there to practice, playing small loops through dive bars and art spaces around the Midwest—just enough for McShane and Heasly to afford plane tickets back home. Being split between Chicago and New York forced the project into a deliberate pace. “We tried to take it slow and let it be what it was,” said McShane. That sense of patience unexpectedly prepared them for March of 2020, when their planned tours and the release of Two were indefinitely delayed.
Two was mostly recorded in the summer of 2019 with the help of omnipresent Chicago engineer Dave Vettraino and DPCD’s Alec Watson, whose contributions on organ, synths, and piano are laced throughout the record. The album reflects a synthesis of solitary and communal songwriting processes—each song drawing on fragments written by individuals, which McShane threaded together and shaped through her distinct compositional lens, making the songs whole before returning to them to the band to mature collectively. When composing, McShane writes first on the keyboard before adapting parts for guitars played by herself and Clinkman. Their dueling approaches to guitar are complementary: McShane, being a newer guitarist, brings a freshness to the project (“I'm just discovering the whole time,” she says) while Clinkman has been playing since childhood.
“There's a lot more collaboration on this record,” says Clinkman, “in terms of all of us letting stuff bloom a little bit more.” The record’s first single, “Hold The Phone” is a good example of this process—it started with a playful intro riff from Clinkman, a melody and bridge added by McShane, a wobbly outro groove added by Heasly, which Sudderberg brought to life. Another single, the dynamic “See a Sky,” written primarily by Heasly, underscores the rhythm section chemistry at play across the record, the song ebbing and flowing around Heasly and Sudderberg’s eclectic percussive palettes.
“Entropy Transfer Partners” is the only song on the record with lyrics by Clinkman, and the album’s most politically direct—a call for solidarity in the face of systemic failures, an acknowledgment of the shared material devastation caused by our country’s ongoing healthcare and housing crises: “These are not things we're experiencing individually. We struggle through them collectively. And we could actually declare, all of us, that it doesn't have to be this way, and fight and organize to ameliorate some of those conditions.” (“We won't work to create the shit you monetize, to run our lives,” they sing.)
From front to back, Two is an absorbing listen simply for its impressive range. But as the members explain themselves, the complexity of the record is about more than its intricate riffs, or how often they count out an odd time signature, but how they reject the notion of boxing the songs in, letting the melodies take on lives of their own. “Making music that feels alive is important to us,” says Clinkman. “Music feels most powerful to me when it deepens our sensation of feeling alive and connected to other humans. It’s so easy to feel worn down and isolated; that your life’s value is fixed to your productivity at your job, or the things that you have or don’t have. Making music that feels joyful and fun seems like one effective antidote to that feeling.”