Strange Names – Use Your Time Wisely


Strange Names – Use Your Time Wisely

For their first LP Strange Names apparently had plenty of time on their hands, as after recording Use Your Time Wisely in their hometown Minneapolis the trio relocated to New York where they re-cut the entire album again. Not remixed, added overdubs or even one or two new songs, but completely ditched the original recordings and began afresh, from the opening bars of the first track to the closing fade out of the last. Of course, almost every band you’ve ever heard of has done similar things throughout their careers, going back into the studio to enhance and improve upon the initial recordings of whichever album or track they decided required that sort of attention to detail, it’s just that Strange Names are among the very few bands you’ve heard of or are about to hear of that have gone public with a story of their penchant for studio finesse. Perhaps the really important part of the re-recording story is the “we moved to New York” part, although archiving their original recordings and coming up with a more professional sounding album probably isn’t a bad move in itself for a band about to support Azealia Banks on her summer tour. A surprising number of my Facebook contacts appear to like her (about a dozen).

Perhaps the actual popularity of Azealia Banks shouldn’t surprise me, but are Strange Names going to surprise anyone? Between them, MGMT and Foster The People created a blueprint for smoothly produced edgy sounding electro-pop which is what Strange Names are going to some lengths to perfect. The interview on their label site has guitarist Francis Ximenez describing how after the first take of the album sounded “too garage rock” the trio decided to “find a middle ground where the music still sounds like us but is accessible.” Ximenez also speaks of Strange Names ongoing struggle with “the avant-garde within us,” suggesting that for all their added mainstream gloss that a creative tension exists in their music which brings more to the stage than just rehashed pop clichés.

Opening track “Return”, with its glimmering sequenced intro starts the album off energetically and with a lyric that seems to have something to say for itself; “I’m not the guy I used to be/I’m not your springtime fantasy.” You might wonder where Strange Names are going with this sort of thing, and the answer to that is: very firmly down the route marked ‘mainstream pop’, exactly the kind of unobjectionable electropop by numbers that you’ve heard from a lot of bands in the last five years, which you either tolerate when it turns up on your radio or regard with the disdain you reserve for the uninspired got-it-from-a-sample-download and designed to be deliberately unobtrusive muzak that appears every time you visit the local mall. Use Your Time Wisely isn’t a complete waste of 35 or so minutes, and Azealia Banks’ audience won’t find much objectionable about Strange Names. They could’ve left in a bit more of that ‘avant-garde’ stuff though.

French Kiss