If I had to sum up Kenosha County musicians Spare Animals’ latest EP, “Better Winds”, it would be this: instrumental reverence and nostalgia for music of childhood coupled with the lyrical maturity of looking back decades later.
In fact, many of us are bound to have old music from our own lives conjured up in our minds by the very well produced and very well written EP “inspired by music of the 70s, 80s and 90s”, according to the band.
The EP is available for streaming and for purchase at https://spareanimals.bandcamp.com/album/better-winds-ep.
Husband and wife duo Kai Andersen and Elizabeth Byshenk comprise Spare Animals. Kai should be no stranger to many musicians in Kenosha. He used to host a popular open mic at Kenosha Fusion a few years back.
Kai also has a vast understanding and knowledge of music. Quite honestly, he’s one of the people I turn to when I have a question or want an opinion on something music-related.
Elizabeth has also come to be quite known in the Kenosha community. Both for her presence in the music scene, but also for her level of skill.
I’ve had the privilege of playing shows with Spare Animals a number of times over the years, and I still marvel at how many instruments Elizabeth is able to pick up and perform with. In fact, on the EP, she sings and plays bass guitar, synth bass and violin.
One of the biggest benefits that their dynamic brings to the stage is their harmonies. Both are not only solid musicians, but also strong singers. That shows in how seamlessly their voices blend notes together every time they play a set.
‘Better Winds’ production
When I first heard the band’s EP “Better Winds”, the first thing that struck me was how good it sounds from a technical standpoint.
This can be credited to Greg Henkin, who recorded the band in Grayslake, Ill., and also played lead guitar on the EP, and Nick Stetina, who mastered the songs in Chicago.
The EP is crystal clear; everything is stacked so that the key parts are emphasized without being distracting; and even the tones chosen for background instruments add in an atmosphere that matches perfectly with its goal of honoring old-style rock music.
Collaborators who contributed to that atmosphere on the album include: Craig Borchers, who plays drums on the EP; Silani Pedroza, who contributed sax on the song “Vaporwaves”; and Joslynn Byshenk, who contributed vocals on “Vaporwaves”.
Starting off with the blast of a slightly distorted guitar, the five-track EP effectively balances a lot in its 15-minute runtime.
First on deck is “Better Winds”, which instrumentally will sound like you just flipped on any classic rock station – the band’s intention.
The song has the presence of a hard rock song, but instead of the usual in-the-moment style lyrics of many old anthems, “Better Winds” is more written from a looking-back-on-the-moment perspective:
“I got so tired of waiting on better winds,
Yeah, I sink or swim,
And my handshake, it don’t mean a thing
When you’re playing in my backyard”
While “Better Winds” has the instrumentation of, say, a Tom Petty classic, the lyrics point towards the almost aching-nostalgic milieu some of us enter into in our thirties. The music and lyrics of the track are quite effective in finding where past nostalgia and current reality intersect.
However, there is a saving grace in both childhood and adulthood: love.
On “Vaporwaves” the couple, who merge together as easily in real life as they do in music, creates a love song that is reminiscent (at least to me) of Bruce Springsteen’s “Secret Garden”.
Though less upbeat than “Better Winds”, the tones of the picked notes and the way that their voices build into this almost warm echo makes the lyrics pop out in front and kind of swim in your mind:
“You said, hold on, hold on, hold on,
You can get away from the damage,
And you never have to be alone, no,
You never had to sell me on it,
Girl, you know you had me from the start”
‘Fortune or None’
“When it was done,
You were holding
On to those who can’t explain,
What to do with a better life,
But it’s only when you said”
“Fortune or None” is a song I’ve heard Kai and Liz play live many, many times. In fact, it was one of my first favorites among their collection of original music.
I would imagine it will stick with anyone who has encountered any cautionary-tale people in their life. While not too heavy handed in its presentation, this song masterfully presents the feeling of remembering friends who went off the deep end and never came up again.
That theme spills over into “Still Around”.
This song tackles that concept of the best plans of mice and men go awry in life – something that becomes quickly apparent in adulthood.
In fact, it tackles the losses that many accumulate by our 30s – whether it be loved ones, friends, etc.
While seemingly an emphasis on being the person still around, this track describes the trauma and pain that can sink in when you are the last man standing of a group of people who were once tied together in love.
‘Classic Rock Song’
“Classic Rock Song” is a perfect bittersweet ending to the EP. It brings back the more upbeat music of “Better Winds”. However, instead of more analytical lyrics, this song is incredibly clever.
I would challenge anyone to catch all of the references to classic rock songs contained within this track. And more than that, it’s not clever just to be clever. Each reference is used in a meaningful way within the context of the song and the story it tells.
Beyond that, the lyrics of the song even offer some comfort, in my opinion, to musicians who were the young class and have stuck around long enough to grow into the older group.
“She said who, who are you,
Now you’re just some deaf, blind and dumb boy,
But if you die, when you get old,
Remember that they never could get Keith clean,
Oh but maybe then Keith never wanted to be clean.”
And with the fade out of the song, the EP ends.
And if you’re like me, you’ll start it all over again.
Keep up with the band
There are several ways to keep current on Spare Animals’ latest shows and releases. The first of which being their official website https://www.spareanimals.com/. You can also follow them on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/spareanimals/.
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