Chicago/New York band Spirits Having Fun plays challenging but profoundly joyful rock. Info
The forthcoming debut album from Spirits Having Fun, Auto-Portrait, pushes the band's scrambled complexity to a series of exuberant peaks, offering a vision of experimental rock that values friendliness and warmth as much as it does twisted rhythms and abstracted melodies. On songs like "Electricity Explorer," Katie McShane's vocal melodies flit among a tangle of McShane and Andrew Clinkman's alternately sweet and cracked guitars, while drummer Phil Sudderberg and bassist Jesse Heasly string fragmented meters into an amiable flow. The album's title track (also its opening track) begins with a fast-flickering guitar melody that creates a feeling of lightness, as if to reassure listeners that they'll be treated kindly during the wild rhythmic tumbles to come. Things get a bit more unsettling on tracks like "Gift Shopping," as Clinkman and McShane's guitars engage in a dissonant but taught back-and-forth. "Alligators Bellow In B-Flat" finds the band at its most playful, with its loose, shuffling drums and lyrics about key changes and mouse pads.
At some point it's hard not to be reminded of Deerhoof or Ponytail, but don't let that distract from everything Spirits Having Fun's members (currently split between Chicago and New York) bring to the table from their formidable backgrounds in jazz and avant-rock. McShane and Healy both play in the mangled art-pop ensemble Listening Woman. Sudderberg and Clinkman play with eminent saxophonist and improviser Ken Vandermark in Marker. McShane's solo career includes work as a new-music composer and cellist, Sudderberg played in the singularly warped Chicago outfit Wei Zhongle, and Clinkman has made experimental solo releases and played in the Boston-based Cowboy Band. With all that experience and versatility in the mix, it's hard to imagine Spirits Having Fun getting hemmed in too easily, and it'll be interesting to see how Auto-Portrait's songs mutate in the live setting. —Scott Gordon