What do you think life would be like if we never went to sleep? So many of our experiences are based around the notion of chapters — today sucked, but tomorrow’s a new day. I’m going to grab some lunch, then in a few hours I’ll eat dinner. There are seven songs on this album, and if I like one, I’ll listen to it again. It’s like we’re constantly hitting restart, so ready for the idea of some beginning that we forget sometimes that, in a real sense, we’ve never really stopped doing anything. Dreams are just a simulation to cover up the truth that, ultimately, we’re still awake. From the moment you became, you’ve been motoring forward, sometimes breezily, sometimes sluggishly, but always part of that same extended scene. The same scene you were watching back when you scraped your knee in pre-school, went to your first dance, moved to a new city. One long strip of magnetic tape that somehow just keeps spinning, one reel always dwindling, the other growing.
Chicago’s Good Willsmith have been churning out slabs of continuous, dynamic improv for the better part of the 2010s (when they aren’t alley-ooping other goofballs through their label Hausu Mountain), but Things Our Bodies Used To Have is the closest they’ve come to displaying an actual method. Continuing on the trend of juxtaposing the soothing with the perturbing that they illustrated stunningly on last year’s Snake Person Generation, Things Our Bodies Used To Have is the group’s least chaotic work yet, dishing its sounds out with poise and a real sense of momentum. From its first moments, an actual opening theme emerges from Natalie Chami’s signature cyborg keys, after which the first half of the record commences through a Fragile-style, each-member-take-a-turn cycle, culminating in a restatement of the initial theme before the obsidian second half ensues. Does it still flow, you ask? Can a band known for their completely off-the-cuff approach swing this kind of stunt?
The answer is, of course (of course,) how could you even doubt this ensemble’s capabilities at carving magic out of mush? What Good Willsmith are onto with Things Our Bodies Used To Have is more than just your average solo pass off, more than just a deep-sinking gateway to zone. Sure, you could call what this threesome does “world-building.” You could call it “elemental.” But what Natalie Chami, Doug Kaplan, and Maxwell Allison (a.k.a. ex-TMTer Mukqs) pull off here is more a process of setting us on a pathway, allowing us to acclimate, then slowly veering it off course until our idea of “where we’re going” is proven ridiculously futile. Each member’s section displays a radically different mindset at work, each individual a piece as infinitely layered and microscopically dense as the others, and each receding back into space as easily as they crept up. It’s like a guided expedition taken inside of a flying object that can change size at will, observing each level of a particle in a hierarchy of size that puts the perspective and essentiality of each layer into broad, multi-dimensional focus. It’s far out, but really it’s far in, an incantation that delves into personal history as much as it does into the shared, communal now.
As with all Good Willsmith output, Things Our Bodies Used To Have tackles a humane sense of daily gloom, yet the way these three magnify said feelings to such a celestial scale lends a new perspective to the group’s indulgences in nth-degree farce. These subterranean signal configurations come included with titles as preposterous as “A Disease You’ve Probably Never Heard Of Is Killing Kids,” “Not Your Kids,” and “But Someone Else’s Kids” — stinging, to say the least. But really, it’s only because the chemistry at play here is alive with excitement at all kinds of emotions — tragedy, epiphany, loneliness, camaraderie: all of it plays into Good Willsmith’s vision of euphoric timestretch. It’s almost impossible to construct an aesthetic environment within which to behold Things Our Bodies Used To Have because of the way that the band (and this is without question a band) constructs its all’s-fair jam sessions as if the idea of some completion were out of the question. Even when Kaplan takes the old-school blues guitar lead on “Not Your Kids,” the other two members don’t swell with him to assume an assaulting climax; they stand robust in the background, observing Kaplan steadily before collectively deciding that it’s time for Chami to step out to center stage. Although the B-side is soaked in the lush hypnotism of The Honeymoon Workbook and Is The Food Your Family Eats Slowly, the first half of the album is easily the most song-like this band has ever sounded, and the fact that it manages to maintain such formlessness while simultaneously making huge strides forward in terms of composition is promising and enticing for what Good Willsmith’s future might bring.
The old school always finds its way back into new school. No matter how deeply we continue to fractal within ourselves, pushing our own mental capacities on both a micro and macro scale, it always comes back to this, right now, just us in this room, feeding off each other’s waves, flowing into whatever will come, forceful only in the Episode IV sense of the word. Good Willsmith are still searching, formulating new shapes and tensions in their art, only to bring all of it crashing down so they can make way for something new. If the goal was to find a destination, why is it that we’re always moving? Things Our Bodies Used To Have is a 36-minute slice of time, presented with the adornments of “chapters” and “movements,” but really, these fragments are just an illusion to distract us from the overarching continuity of this eternal experience. This type of improvisation will always be something innate, essential, and revealing; after all, it isn’t about making something great, but about how great it is to make something.