Five-piece experiments with 'manageable discomfort' on new album 'Foreign Affairs'

On Connections' fifth full-length record, Foreign Affairs (Trouble In Mind), the scrappy Columbus rock quintet lives up to its name, celebrating the relationships, or connections, that can carry us amid turbulent times.

“One of the songs we have Marcy [Mays] on, ‘Purely Physical,' it does kind of bring this friends-helping-friends vibe, and even ‘Short Line' is about needing a friend and that sense of camaraderie,” said bassist Phil Kim in an early May interview. “Having other people to help you through life is important, and I think that reflects in the band, too. We're all close friends.”

In addition to Mays (of Scrawl fame), Connections also recorded alongside Sharon Udoh of Counterfeit Madison, inviting the pair, in part, to introduce what Kim termed a “manageable discomfort.”

“We're pretty regimented. We practice every week at the same time, so it is easy to get a little comfortable,” said Kim, who joins his bandmates for an album release show at Used Kids Records on Saturday, May 12.

The move to invite outside musicians, as well as the decision to record with Keith Hanlon at Musicol Studios, were part of a concerted effort by Connections to further distance the band from the lo-fi label that has followed the group like a scarlet A since it released its 2013 debut album, Private Airplane, according to Kim. “We didn't want to be trapped by that label,” he said. “We were looking to bring in different musicians and explore more on the production end.”

While far from glossy, Foreign Affairs is a more sonically streamlined, musically diverse effort, bounding from the infectious, synthesizer-laced chorus of “Low, Low, Low, Low” to the jangly, guitar-driven power pop of “Isle Insane,” which includes lines that appear to play as a commentary on the record industry (“Nobody wants you”; “Nobody gets rich.”)

“There is that vibe there,” said Kim, pointing to bandmates Andy Hampel and Kevin Elliott, who experienced a brief major label flirtation with 84 Nash in the late '90s. “They tell me tons of stories of being these Dayton kids who had never really been out of Ohio getting flown to L.A. and auditioning in front of record labels. … They're all veterans and have been around, and I think just being in music for so long we don't put pressure on ourselves. Our only expectation is just to play some good music and share it with people who appreciate it.”

But even these rare backward glances can't slow the record's forward momentum, which appears to take its cues from a line off “Ballad of Big”: “A kick in the teeth won't slow my mouth down.”

“A lot of the songs, I think especially on this record, are pretty optimistic and forward thinking in the sense of, yeah, picking yourself up from things that may have happened to you,” said Kim.

The bassist added that this plow-ahead vibe was further influenced by the current political atmosphere and the band's desire to release something uplifting during what many consider a dark time.

“The album is even called Foreign Affairs, which, while there isn't a theme through the whole record, it does play into this whole political situation,” he said. “The next few songs Andy has shown the band — that we're working on for the next album — are even more toward that political realm.”