[21 August 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
In its short history, Connections has been a busy band. Earlier this year, the group’s collection Year One captured their start, which is to say two full-lengths – Private Airplane and Body Language – and an EP, all released in 2013. And now the band is back with a third long player, Into Sixes. But make no mistake, just because the band works quickly and has a clear aesthetic, doesn’t mean it’s sitting still. In a short time, the band’s songwriting and playing have tightened, and Into Sixes is the band truly hitting its stride while also testing its limits in exciting ways.
Back on Private Airplane, the songs ran like a dotted-line, from one twist on lo-fi rock ‘n roll to the other. They all lead the same way, but cuts were quick and spaces between them jagged. It made for a tense, surprising listen. By Body Language, Connections found more links between songs. You can follow the line of thought from the smudged, sweet chords of “Aimless” to the jangling rumble of “Blurry Eyes” and so on. There was a deepening sense of texture and of not just how each song worked, but how it worked within the context of the album.
Into Sixes continues this evolution, and we see now that Connections has become two things at once: a great song band and a great album band. This new set offers 13 cuts, each as catchy and zealous in its energy as the last, and yet – though we’ve still got crunching guitars, a tight, barbed rhythm section, and wailing vocals throughout – no two songs tread the same ground. Nor do they repeat what came on the other records. Opener “Aylia” makes this change clear. There’s a slight improvement in fidelity, but Connections isn’t really a lo-fi band so much as they are a band doing things their way and by themselves. The clarity in the song comes in a beautifully tight hook that runs its way down into the chords that fill up the verse. But it bursts open in a chorus of open, plainspoken declaration. “You’re rad, I’m a fool,” Kevin Elliott sings, but it’s more self-definition than shy admission.
The album also seems to pick up thematically where Body Language left off. That album felt youthful but also beer-tired, in search of the next thing. Into Sixes is remarkable because it’s celebratory, even romantic about adulthood. Connections is smart enough to know that you can be both youthful and grown-up, that bemoaning the rat race or picking on investment bankers isn’t the only way to examine getting older. So instead of those pitfalls, we get “Apt By the Interstate”, a bittersweet, funny song of moving on. “I miss your family even though they’re fakes,” Elliott sings to someone he’s leaving behind, and it’s more sincere than insulting. He also follows it with, “I have no connections, but I hear they’re great,” mixing self-referential humor with that sliver of worry over the unknown.
There’s also a sense here that getting older doesn’t necessarily mean giving things up. “Cruise Control” sprints ahead on lean chords, thick bass and driving drums, while Elliott seems to remind himself “night life is always trouble,” but it sounds like he’s doing it between his second and third shots. You can feel the inertia of a night out taking over, and in the middle of it the band remembers perhaps more careless partying in the past and enjoying a bit of chaos in the moment. Songs like the bleary-eyed acoustic number “Calm Down” reveal the things still at stake here, the worry that never quite goes away, but every moment of drinking in isolation is offset by the hope of songs like “Home By the Sea”. This song, one of the band’s finest yet, ramps down the speed to let chords ring out in rolling, tidal swirls, while the echoed vocals fill up the space the band creates until an epic chorus and, finally, the open-throated declaration that the titular place is “not so far away.”
Couple these moments of discovery with titles like “Awesome Beach” and “Extremely Boss” and you’ve got an album that finds a sweet spot in early adulthood and renders it in complex ways that never navel-gaze. Instead, the band does something much harder: it finds an everyday hope to latch onto. It also helps that Connections give us deep hooks on “Scanners” or the shambling “Minister of Ah Ah Ahs” for us to latch ourselves onto. Into Sixes is an album of basic pleasures that read as complex and reveal new layers and echoes upon replay. It’s also one of the finest rock records of 2014. Because while 30 may have become the new 20, this lasting and generous album reminds us there’s a difference between growing up and getting old.