When Connections congealed from members of various storied Columbus rock bands in 2012, it felt like an event — maybe not for the world at large, but certainly among those who’d been paying attention to the groups that contributed this combo’s component parts. The headliner was erstwhile Matador and Merge affiliate Times New Viking, whose drummer/howler Adam Elliott was keeping time for Connections back then. But equally exciting was the involvement of alumni from 84 Nash, El Jesus De Magico, and Swarming Branch. If these names elicit a blank stare from you, know that they’re all responsible for some of the most ingenious, idiosyncratic rock music to ever emerge from the Midwest. El Jesus built explosive, trance-inducing psych-punk; Swarming Branch continues to specialize in skewed pop songcraft that defies categorization; and 84 Nash churned out compact guitar-pop detonations that made dive bars feel like arenas.
The latter band’s nucleus comprises the core of Connections. Singer Kevin Elliott (Adam’s brother) and guitarist Andy Hampel began honing their “telepathic” relationship as Dayton-area teens, and more than two decades later they continue to exhibit prodigious chemistry. In their youth they strung together some of the best bombastically melodic indie-rock albums barely anyone ever heard, 84 Nash’s cult-beloved trilogy The Kings Of Yeah, Band For Hire, and A Secret Reward.
Once 84 Nash wound down, the Elliott/Hampel songwriting partnership was dormant for almost a decade, but upon their formation Connections made up for it with a quick splatter of music including three LPs in two years. After such a generous outpouring, it was surprising to see Connections go all of 2015 without releasing a full-length. That’s partially because they swapped out drummer Adam Elliott for Michael O’Shaughnessy, a veteran of El Jesus De Magico, Nick Tolford & Company, Ipps, and other Ohio noisemakers. But mainly it’s because they were taking their time with the next one, applying extra attention to their craft and recording much of the album in a proper studio rather than at home. The result of those sessions is Midnight Run, out this Friday via another legendary Columbus rock entity, Anyway Records.
Time and change did not result in some major reinvention of the Connections formula, but it did produce a more refined expression of that formula. Midnight Run is this band’s finest collection of unpolished gems. As ever, they’ve delivered a batch of churning, physical power-pop songs topped off with ripping guitar leads and the kind of buried vocal melodies that sneak their way into your consciousness. The music inhabits a sonic space somewhere between Cheap Trick and Flying Nun, populist in style yet boutique in scope. You’ll get a similar Camaro-blasting vibe from Diarrhea Planet, but rather than blast you across the face with over-the-top theatrics, these tracks are stripped to their raw material, letting the songwriting outshine its aesthetic container.
And if you give them the chance, these songs really do shine. Advance single “Month 2 Month,” with its relentless power-chord onslaught and arching chorus and fits of six-string combustion, is an excellent introduction to the world of Midnight Run, but it’s hardly the complete picture. Verily, this album reminds us many pleasant permutations can arise from dudes bashing out pop songs in the basement. Other highlights include the melancholy bop “Kate And Everyone Else,” the rhythm-section riptide “ABCDE,” and the Elvis Costello-inspired bass groove “Moore’s Nautilus.” And Connections have outdone themselves with the slow-build anthem “All In All,” a triumph of nostalgic dejection that has me scouring my house for the nearest lighter every time I press play.
It’s fitting that Anyway is releasing this album because Connections are part of a continuum of Ohio rock bands that extends back to the label’s early-’90s genesis and beyond, groups that — by some combination of aesthetic preference and economic necessity — tend to lace even their catchiest outbursts with skuzz, grime, or sighing twilight shadows. Even the biggest bands in Anyway’s discography linger on the margins of the canon, and aside from Guided By Voices and New Bomb Turks, most of them likely couldn’t scrape together a profitable tour. Yet founder Bela Koe-Krompecher kept the label going as a labor of love long after its Entertainment Weekly-approved mid-’90s buzz dissipated, and this Labor Day Weekend he’ll celebrate its 25th anniversary with a stacked three-night party headlined by the Mountain Goats. Connections will be there too to celebrate the label’s proud tradition, and on Midnight Run they continue to do it justice.
Midnight Run is out 7/22 on Anyway. Pre-order it here and stream it below.
Other notable albums out this week:
•Gucci Mane’s heavily anticipated post-prison full-length Everybody Looking.
•The Amazing’s graceful, expansive guitar epic Ambulance.
•MSTRKRFT’s punk-minded electronic comeback Operator.
•Fountains Of Wayne frontman Chris Collingwood’s self-titled debut as Look Park.
•Yeesh’s screaming math-punk offering Confirmation Bias.
•Maal & Morris’ art-damaged R&B collection Good Morning, I Love You.
•Ascendant Austrian black metal combo Harakiri For The Sky’s III: Trauma.
•Toby Coke’s haphazard lo-fi rocker Time Negator.
•Way Yes leader Glenn Davis’ solo debut Waves & Webs.
•New Zealand indie-rockers Trust Punks’ Double Bind.
•Numenorean’s atmospheric black metal opus Home.
•Hammers Of Misfortune’s retro hard-rocker Dead Revolution.
•Batwings Catwings’ pop-punk blast-off Coast To Coast.
•German brutal death metal zealots Defeated Sanity’s Disposal Of The Dead.
•Heavy Drag’s skuzzy psych compendium Sábana Ghost.
•Technical thrashers Revocation’s Great Is Our Sin.