I've been a fan of Connections for a few years now. At first, the Columbus band's stuff provided an easy fix for me in a world with no more new music from The Grifters, and in the spaces between Robert Pollard-associated releases. Now, with the new album, Foreign Affairs, out on the fine Trouble In Mind label on Friday, it feels like Connections have finally found their own style, which is a roundabout way of saying that Foreign Affairs is likely going to be seen as the band's best record to date.
Sure, there's stuff here that nods in the direction of familiar indie-rock touchstones -- the faint hints of The Replacements in the revved-up "Low Low Low", the ramshackle Pavement touches in "Isle Insane", the power-pop of "Ballad of Big" -- but there's lots here that suggests that Connections have progressed, and refined their approach in some substantial ways here on Foreign Affairs. The languid "Misunderstanding" blends a neo-psychedelic-sense of melody with the sort of DIY approach that has always charmed about this lot's brand of American alt-rock. Elsewhere, the lovely "Cynthia Ann" suggests both early Foo Fighters and late-period Pixies, no mean feat that. The players here have a knack for not overpowering this material, allowing some of this to ease by with a real lazy grace that one once found in lots of American indie, but which has been replaced by ironic detachment ever since Malkmus took up a guitar. Wisely, these guys in Connections are not trying to be too clever, instead focusing on riding the mid-tempo "Short Line" through a series of punchy hooks, or letting the bright "Dream Away" burst forth in a little energetic mini-riot.
I suppose it's still fair to say that if you like Guided By Voices, you'll probably love Connections, but it's increasingly unfair to compare the bands so easily when you hear the melodies here on Foreign Affairs. Where Pollard is prolific to the point of being an obsessive, Connections are more content to bring a near-classic rock sense of how a tune works to the world of American indie, where ambition is never very clearly expressed. Foreign Affairs is simultaneously a record with an easier air about it than earlier, punchier Connections releases, even as it's one that's full of the rough edges that made the group's sound so appealing in the first place.
In a season of big releases, Foreign Affairs, out Friday on Trouble In Mind Records, is, perhaps, one that's remarkably easy to love. Connections have sacrificed none of their charm in the pursuit of these sharper, and more composed selections, and the leap to a new label has evidently served these musicians well. The tunes here are spacious and full of warm hooks, and one realizes again how Connections are one of the most underrated bands in America today.
More details on Connections via the band's official Facebook page.
[Photo: Seth Moses Miller]